UNHCR calls for more effort to ensure Afghan refugees can reintegrate
KABUL, July 31 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency warned on Tuesday that intensive work was needed to ensure that Afghan refugees repatriating in the future are able to successfully resume life in their homeland.
"The return of millions of Afghans to their homes and communities has been one of the major success stories of Afghanistan's recovery," Judy Cheng-Hopkins, Assistant to the High Commissioner for Refugees, said on Tuesday at the end of a three-day visit to see first hand the challenges faced by refugees returning to Afghanistan.
"Repatriation will certainly continue but we will have to work even more intensively with the Government of Afghanistan, the donor community, and our implementing partners if we are to make return and reintegration sustainable for those who choose to return home in future," she said.
She noted that the deteriorating security situation in part of the country and difficult economic conditions underlined how important it will be to continue to maintain a gradual and voluntary approach to repatriation.
Since 2002, some 5 million Afghan refugees - mostly from Pakistan and Iran - have returned, a majority of them taking advantage of UNHCR repatriation assistance. There are currently 3 million registered Afghans left in neighbouring countries, most of whom have been abroad for more than two decades.
"Addressing the ongoing issues of lack of land, shelter, and jobs is a very long-term challenge. There are no quick fixes," Cheng-Hopkins said. "The primary responsibility lies with the government of Afghanistan. But UNHCR will look closely at how we and our partners will need to work from now on to meet the reintegration needs of the long staying population."
From Kabul, Cheng-Hopkins travelled later on Tuesday to Islamabad where she will extend the Tripartite Agreement governing the voluntary repatriation of refugees from Pakistan. The agreement was first signed in 2003 and is a joint programme between the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and UNHCR, to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of registered Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.
From Pakistan, she goes to the Islamic Republic of Iran, where there are currently just over 900,000 registered Afghan refugees.
During her time in Afghanistan, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner met Afghanistan's Second Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Rangin Spanta, Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Ustad Mohammad Akbar, and Asef Rahimi, Deputy Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development. She also met the ambassadors of donor countries and senior UN officials.
The main purpose of her mission was to review UNHCR's activities in Afghanistan, which remains one of the most important UNHCR operations in the world alongside Iraq and Sudan.
Cheng-Hopkins visited one of the busiest returnee centres, close to Kabul. She met families as they received a UNHCR cash grant for transport and reintegration expenses and prepared to travel onwards to resettle in their places of origin. She then went to Parwan province and saw a land allocation site in Beni Worsek district area of Bagram district.
By Mohammad Nader Farhad in Kabul, Afghanistan