Afghanistan: Housing programme progressing well
Returning Afghan refugees are making rapid progress on the UNHCR-funded housing programme. More than 18,600 homes have so far been built under our 2003 housing initiative, putting more than 93,000 returned refugees back in their own homes for the first time since they fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and the subsequent civil war.
Another more than 30,100 Afghan families are busy constructing their UNHCR-funded homes, with two-thirds up to roof level. At the current pace - now that most Afghans have harvested their wheat fields and fruit trees - we expect that 95 percent of our 52,000 planned shelters will be completed by the end of this year, equivalent to roughly a quarter million former refugees living in their own homes after years in exile.
Work on more than 3,100 homes has still not yet begun, but as needy returnees are identified by our partners we expect many to begin constructing walls and roofs during the upcoming winter months. Under our housing scheme, needy Afghan returnees receive tool kits and must build their walls up to shoulder height before they receive roofing timbers, door and window frames. Participants also receive a cash stipend (between $50-100) that compensates them for loss of income during construction or to pay for skilled labour or material like bricks. In the case of returnee families who may not be able to themselves work, the grant allows them to mobilize community help.
In Kabul, we're financing 1,500 individual units as well as the emergency rehabilitation of 24 public buildings that are currently sheltering squatters, in order to help ease the housing shortage in the Afghan capital, although our primary aim under our shelter programme is to help Afghanistan's devastated rural communities to rebuild.
Some 2.5 million Afghan refugees have gone back - mainly from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran - since the start of UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme in March 2002.
More than 562,000 Afghans have returned to their homeland from 21 countries under the UNHCR-facilitated return programme this year. More than 338,000 have repatriated from Pakistan, while over 233,000 have so far returned from Iran. Although the pace of returns has slowed down with the approach of winter, there is still a steady flow and we will continue to offer repatriation assistance to those needing help over the coming months.
UNHCR estimates that there are about 1.1 million Afghan refugees still in Pakistan's refugee camps, as well as an unknown but substantial number in urban areas. Another over 1 million Afghan refugees are believed to remain in Iran.
Last year, returning refugees built more than 40,000 shelters under UNHCR's 2002 reconstruction programme that helped over 200,000 families through their first Afghan winter back in decades.