Afghanistan: Pyanj River repatriation completed
The return of Afghan refugees from neighbouring countries today hit the 300,000 mark. More than 285,000 returns have been recorded from Pakistan since UNHCR and the Kabul and Islamabad governments mounted the operation on 1 March. Another 10,000 Afghans returned from Iran since a similar assistance programme began on 9 April. On the last leg of a three-country, eight-day tour of the region, High Commissioner Lubbers on Thursday went to the Takhta Baig registration centre in Pakistan's north-western town of Peshawar and saw some of the estimated 20,000 Afghans thronging the facility daily to request repatriation assistance.
Also on Thursday, UNHCR completed the repatriation of nearly 9,000 Afghans who have been stuck for a year and a half on islands and promontories of the Pyanj River which marks the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. UNHCR protection officers say the last 105 people left the islands for the region of Kunduz in north-eastern Afghanistan in trucks supplied by IOM. This brought to 8,918 the total number of people who have now left the islands where they had been camping in dismal conditions since November of 2000.
Iran and Pakistan host 3.5 million Afghan refugees. UNHCR hopes to help return this year 800,000 Afghan refugees along with 400,000 internally displaced people. At its current rate, the repatriation movement of the world's largest refugee group is shaping up to be the biggest and fastest since 800,000 refugees went home to Kosovo in 1999, at the end of the civil conflict in the Serbian province.