Afghanistan: pace of return remains strong
The pace of return to Afghanistan remains strong, with thousands of refugees going back daily. So far this year, we've seen some 450,000 refugees repatriate. Unlike the previous two years of UNHCR-facilitated returns, most of the Afghans are coming back from Iran, which has seen more than 242,000 Afghans repatriate since the beginning of the year. Another 210,000 refugees have returned from Pakistan. The pace of returns from Iran is higher than at similar points in the last two years.
The largest return movements are traditionally seen in the May-August period, when refugees pack up their families and return home after schools close and in time to help with the growing season in Afghanistan. Since the facilitated return programme began in early 2002, more than 2 million refugees have repatriated from Pakistan, while some 900,000 have gone back from Iran.
Afghan refugees returning under the initiative receive a travel grant ranging from $3 to $30 per person, plus a cash grant of $8 each to provide for basic necessities on arrival. The money is paid at UNHCR offices inside Afghanistan. In addition, all refugees in Pakistan over the age of six who want to repatriate must go through a computerised iris recognition check before departure to ensure that they do not receive assistance more than once.
To help boost returns from Pakistan's post-9/11 border belt camps, UNHCR today dispatched mobile teams with iris recognition equipment to help facilitate returns from the sites. Surveys have shown that most refugees (up to 90 percent in some camps) intend to return to Afghanistan. There are some 190,000 refugees in the new camps. Residents of the new camps were told in June that all UNHCR assistance, including food provided through the UN World Food Programme - which was not provided to other refugees in Pakistan - would stop at the end of August. Residents were offered an enhanced aid package if they choose to return to Afghanistan. UNHCR is discussing with the Pakistan government possible new locations for those who remain after the 1 September deadline. The government does not want them to continue living in the camps because of security, but remains committed in principle to only voluntary repatriation.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) in Kabul, a regular meeting of Afghan and Pakistan government officials and UNHCR will discuss repatriation issues concerning Pakistan.