High Commissioner in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan
GENEVA, April 12 (UNHCR) - High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers left today on an eight-day mission to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan for a first-hand look at the UN refugee agency's largest current repatriation operation, which has seen some 223,000 Afghan returnees since March 1.
"I'm going there as the High Commissioner for Returnees," said Lubbers in an interview with the BBC World Service.
This is his third mission to the region in a year. He will arrive on Saturday in Teheran, Islamic Republic of Iran, to meet the president and members of the Cabinet before travelling to Mashad. On Sunday he will go overland to Herat in western Afghanistan after reviewing repatriation activities at the frontier.
In Afghanistan, Lubbers will witness UNHCR assistance activities and rehabilitation projects in Herat, Kabul and Jalalabad. He is expected to meet with President Karzai and members of the Interim Authority, as well as UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General Lakhdar Brahimi and his senior staff in Kabul. Lubbers will then travel from Jalalabad to Peshawar, Pakistan, a route travelled by the majority of the recent Afghan returnees.
"I hope to create an atmosphere of trust so that Afghans can have the confidence to go home," he said.
The High Commissioner also hopes to make contact with representatives of donor countries while in the region. "We hope to bring home 1.2 million Afghans this year, but this costs money. I hope to get enough support from donor countries to meet our goal," he said.
Stressing the importance of longer-term support to make the returns sustainable, he added, "We're not asking for money for humanitarian assistance. We're asking for the money necessary for people to go home and start rebuilding their country from the ground up."
"The returnees will need jobs," he explained. "We hope to provide them with small amounts of money so they can get to work themselves on activities like building houses and irrigation systems."
Meanwhile, the number of Afghan returnees continues to rise. Repatriation from Pakistan has resumed after a one-day interruption on Tuesday by demonstrating poppy farmers. From Iran, more than 1,300 Afghans have returned via the Islam Qala border crossing in the first three days of a joint repatriation operation.
From the Tajik-Afghan border, more than 3,900 Afghans who had been living in island camps in the Pyandj River have returned home since UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began moving them back to northern Afghanistan's Kunduz province beginning Monday.
Said Lubbers, "My first priority is to manage the repatriation of Afghans from Pakistan and Iran. When this picks up and the atmosphere of confidence is established, then we can embark on Round Two and motivate Afghans around the world to go home."