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Afghanistan: largest single refugee repatriation since 1972

Briefing notes

Afghanistan: largest single refugee repatriation since 1972

3 September 2002

The last six months have seen the largest single refugee repatriation since 1972, with total returns to Afghanistan currently standing at more than 1.63 million people. If we add the estimates of spontaneous returns since late 2001, more than 1.9 million Afghans have gone home. In 1972, more than 9.8 million Bengalis who had earlier fled East Pakistan returned to Bangladesh.

Thousands of Afghan refugees continue to repatriate daily, although the pace from Pakistan is rapidly declining. There has, however, been an increase in returns from Iran. Considering the state of Afghanistan's infrastructure and the security problems that still affect many areas, this is an astonishing number.

August saw the lowest number of refugees go back under the UNHCR/Afghan Transitional Authority repatriation operation that began in March. Over 196,000 returned home in August - less than half the more than 412,000 refugees who returned in May when the repatriation reached its peak.

In all, more than 1.44 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan. From Iran, the total number of returns stands at over 180,000 (another 55,000 spontaneous returnees are estimated to have gone back from Iran since April.) And some 10,000 Afghans have gone back from the Central Asian states with UNHCR assistance.

UNHCR estimates that 2 million Afghans will return home this year. The number of refugees and other Afghans still outside the country is difficult to estimate due to the large number of migrant workers in countries like Pakistan and Iran.