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UNHCR preparing to help tens of thousands of Afghan returnees per day from Pakistan and Iran

UNHCR preparing to help tens of thousands of Afghan returnees per day from Pakistan and Iran

UNHCR plans to register as many as 35,000 Afghan refugees from Pakistan every day when it steps up return operations on March 1. Thousands more will also receive aid in going home from Iran, where the agency is building 10 registration centres.
15 February 2002
Afghan refugees returning home from Pakistan last year in a previous UNHCR-assisted repatriation.

Afghan refugees returning home from Pakistan last year in a previous UNHCR-assisted repatriation.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb. 15 (UNHCR) - Just two weeks before it steps up assistance to Afghan refugees wishing to go home, UNHCR is making preparations to register tens of thousands of people a day in Pakistan and Iran and establish distribution centres to supply returnees with food and other necessary items.

The refugee agency said Friday that it will open seven voluntary repatriation centres in Pakistan, each with a capacity to process 5,000 people per day, with the first one due to start operating on March 1 in Tartabek, outside Peshawar.

At the same time, the agency and the Iranian government surveyed ten sites in that country, where similar registration centres are to be established. In addition, three special exit points are to be built along the Iran's 900-mile border with Afghanistan. The return operation in Iran, however, is not scheduled to begin until April 1.

Despite speeding up plans to assist up to 1.2 million refugees and internally displaced persons return home this year, the agency continues to caution against an immediate mass return of the more than 3.5 million Afghans currently in Iran and Pakistan.

"While UNHCR will help those who decide on their own to return to Afghanistan, the country's fragile security situation and the continuing effects of drought and a devastated economy mean that the U.N. refugee agency cannot yet actively promote large-scale, organised repatriation," it said in a statement from its Geneva headquarters.

Under the plan being established, the returning refugees will be responsible for hiring their own transportation and stopping at one of the registration centres before crossing the border. Once back inside Afghanistan, they can approach one of many UNHCR centres that will be located along the main entry points, where they will receive a cash grant of up to $100 for a family of five to cover the travel expenses.

In addition, the returnees will receive a three-month supply of wheat flour from the World Food Programme at distribution centres that are to be set up in each of Afghanistan's 32 provinces. They will also be given UNHCR repatriation kits containing plastic tarpaulins, blankets, water, soap and other items.

The agency said that despite the precarious security situation in many parts of Afghanistan, it expects the demand from refugees to be "quite high," but did not give specific figures. Since January 1, more than 3,100 Afghans have been returning daily, bringing the number of returnees to more than 143,000 during this period.

"The majority of these recent returnees are from among Afghanistan's ethnic minority groups," the agency said in its statement. "Many are educated, indicating a possible boost for Afghanistan's war- and drought-shattered economy."

While UNHCR prepares for the expected returns, it is dealing with a flood of new refugees arriving at the Chaman border region in Pakistan. Some 10,000 new arrivals are camped at the edge of UNHCR's Killi Faizo site, with homemade tents pitched as far as the eye can see.

The new arrivals are being gradually shifted to new UNHCR camps along the frontier, which currently hold 135,000 people who arrived in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province since September of last year.