UNHCR distributes aid to 9,000 in western Afghanistan
HERAT, Nov. 25 (UNHCR) - The U.N. refugee agency and the Iranian Red Crescent Society distributed plastic sheets and blankets to 9,000 displaced people in Herat at the weekend, as hundreds more people fleeing hunger and conflict arrive daily in the region.
The aid was delivered to people residing in three of the camps for displaced people near the battered ancient city of Herat, after arriving on a convoy from the Iranian town of Mashad late last week.
UNHCR staff in Herat report that several hundred newly displaced people are arriving daily, mainly from the central Afghan province of Ghor, which is one of the areas worst affected by Afghanistan's three-year drought and by sporadic conflict throughout the year. They also reported that the inhabitants of the Herat camps urgently need other winter supplies such as stoves, blankets, winterized tents and warm clothing.
UNHCR staff monitoring the border crossing with Iran, reported that 997 Afghans returned from Iran on Sunday. Around 1,000 a day have been returning for the past week or so, and almost 45,000 in total since September 11.
An increasing number of those returning from Iran say they intend to stay in Afghanistan. Heart was recaptured from the Taliban by its former governor, Ismael Khan, on 12 November. Some of those returning say they hope to set up businesses, including one man who crossed on Sunday with a barber's chair, apparently eager to capitalize on a desire by many of the city's inhabitants to trim or shave off their beards.
According to UNHCR figures, some 1.8 million Afghans have returned voluntarily from Iran since repatriation began in 1992. However, three-quarters of these returned prior to September 1995, when Herat was the first major city outside of Kandahar to fall to the Taliban. Over the next three years, less than 10,000 refugees a year returned from Iran, where the majority of the refugees are from the Afghan minority groups - Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks - and speak a dialect of the Iranian language, Farsi.