Afghan returnees from Pakistan reach 80,000; funds needed to keep pace
GENEVA, March 22 (UNHCR) - Just three weeks after UNHCR began helping Afghans return home from Pakistan, more than 80,000 former refugees have crossed the border into their country, prompting calls for donors to keep pace with the repatriation programme.
"This signifies a real vote of confidence by Afghans in the future of their country, and we're extremely pleased that we're able to provide some help to those who - despite the enormous challenges they will face - have made the difficult choice to go home," Ron Redmond, the agency's spokesman, told a news briefing in Geneva.
But Redmond added that the "enormous and unexpected" popularity of the programme begun March 1 has led to a "pressing need for continued high levels" of support from donors. He said the agency needed $271 million to help the estimated 1.2 million refugees and internally displaced people who will be returning home.
"But these are planning figures. It could be more or it could be less," Redmond said in response to a question. "If the pace that we are seeing right now continues, it could be quite a bit more."
To date, the agency has received $119 million, or 44 percent of current requirements. Of that amount, 93 percent has already been committed to the repatriation programme, leaving a shortfall of $152 million.
Redmond said the money was needed now to provide urgently needed items, including shelter materials such as beams, doors, and tools that will allow the returning Afghans to rebuild their shattered houses and destroyed villages.
Thus far, all of the returnees have passed through the Takhtabaig Voluntary Repatriation Centre just outside the Pakistani city of Peshawar. Eventually seven such centres will be able to register up to 35,000 people a day from Pakistan.
A similar programme to register Afghans in Iran, which hosts 1.5 million refugees, is scheduled to begin in April.
Once they register, the returning Afghans are given $20 per person and up to $100 per family at Mohmandar inside Afghanistan to help them pay for their transportation home. The agency has also set up 10 out of 32 planned distribution centres run by the German NGO GTZ in each of the Afghan provinces where the returnees are given a repatriation kit that includes a plastic tarpaulin, sleeping mats and blankets and 150 kilogrammes of wheat distributed by the World Food Programme.
Despite the mass returns, UNHCR is not formally encouraging repatriation nor assisting with transportation because of the continuing insecurity in many parts of the country.