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Second Bam convoy arrives in Afghanistan

Second Bam convoy arrives in Afghanistan

Shaken by the recent earthquake in Iran, a second group of Afghan refugees has returned home with assistance from the UN refugee agency. Some of the returnees are visibly hurt while most have lost loved ones, including whole families.
21 January 2004
Afghan refugees loading up to leave Bam on the second convoy home since the December earthquake.

DOGHAROUN, Iran, Jan 21 (UNHCR) - More than 300 Afghan earthquake survivors have crossed back into Afghanistan in the second return convoy from the devastated Iranian city of Bam.

On Wednesday, 306 Afghans arrived in their homeland in nine UNHCR buses after crossing the Iran-Afghan border at Dogharoun. They had left Bam in south-eastern Iran on Tuesday and spent the night in Kerman, where they received a hot meal. At the Dogharoun crossing point, they received tents in addition to an earlier distribution of food and blankets.

Among the convoy are 301 Afghan refugees - including 132 children - and five Afghans who had travelled to Bam after the December 26 earthquake to check on their families and are now returning to Afghanistan.

Almost all the returnees have lost loved ones in the earthquake. A family of six children aged from four to 10 lost both parents and are heading home with their grandmother. A 30-year-old man lost nine family members while a 60-year-old man lost his mind after his whole family was killed. Other returnees are visibly hurt after the earthquake.

After crossing into Afghanistan, the convoy will split into four main groups - some will stay in Herat in the west, while others will continue their journey to Kabul and Parwan in central Afghanistan, and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north. Many of them will have to travel for days before reaching their areas of origin.

Wednesday's returnees marked the second repatriation convoy from Bam. The first group of 365 Afghans left the quake-hit city early last week and reached Kabul over the weekend.

Some of the returnees were injured; many others had lost loved ones.

Afghan Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Enayatullah Nazari received some of the first returnees at Do Rahi Paghman on the western outskirts of Kabul last Saturday. "The people of Afghanistan share your sorrows," he told the returnees before they headed onwards to Parwan province, north of the capital.

Some 3,300 Afghan refugees were registered in Bam at the time of the earthquake, with an unknown number of others who were there unofficially. The Iranian government has reported that some 1,500 Afghans were killed in the quake, but UNHCR has been unable to confirm that figure.

In the wake of the earthquake, the refugee agency contributed relief supplies for survivors and deployed an emergency team to Bam to coordinate assistance for the Afghan refugees. Another 160 of them have already registered to return to Afghanistan on the next convoy.