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Afghanistan: more than 100,000 have returned

Briefing notes

Afghanistan: more than 100,000 have returned

10 December 1999

Despite continuing turmoil, more than 100,000 Afghans have returned from neighbouring countries so far this year.

At more than 2.6 million, the Afghan refugee population remains the largest in the world. There are presently some 1.2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan living in refugee villages in the provinces of Peshawar and Balochistan, plus an undetermined number - anywhere from 500,000 to 2 million - living in urban areas in the main cities of Pakistan. Iran, meanwhile, has registered an estimated 1.4 million Afghan refugees, but several hundred thousand more are known to be living on Iranian territory undocumented.

Fighting north of Kabul in July 1999 provoked the displacement of more than 300,000 people inside Afghanistan and a limited but steady flow of refugees through the border with Pakistan. UNHCR is closely monitoring the situation and assists new arrivals to settle in refugee villages.

Despite the unstable situation in parts of Afghanistan, voluntary repatriation remains the most preferred solution by many Afghans and by the governments of Iran and Pakistan. Given the situation in Afghanistan, UNHCR does not promote repatriation but rather facilitates the voluntary return of Afghans who wish to do so.

Since the beginning of 1999, more than 88,300 people received UNHCR assistance and returned voluntarily from Pakistan. Another 35,000 did the same from Iran with the assistance of the Afghan Embassy, and 6,000 with UNHCR's assistance.

Returnees, after verification in the two countries of asylum, receive a standard repatriation grant comprising 300 kgs of wheat flour, a cash grant of $40 as well as plastic sheeting and blankets. A large programme of assistance is put in place by UNHCR in rural areas of Afghanistan to help returnees reintegrate in their communities.

For the year 2000, if the necessary funds are made available and the situation improves in Afghanistan, UNHCR is planning to return at least 100,000 people from Pakistan. If a plan of action can be signed with the government in Teheran, a similar number could return from Iran.