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Afghanistan: Returns surge in May

Briefing notes

Afghanistan: Returns surge in May

6 June 2003

A total of more than 158,000 Afghan refugees have returned home so far this year under the UNHCR/Afghan transitional government repatriation programme. The number of returnees surged in May, with the repatriation of more than 82,000 people, more than double the number of Afghans who went back during the previous month. The weekly return rate now stands at some 20,000 people.

The number of facilitated returns so far this year from Iran stands at more than 43,000, while more than 115,000 refugees have repatriated from Pakistan. All the returnees from Pakistan undergo iris recognition scanning as part of our efforts to thwart attempts by refugees to fraudulently obtain the travel grant and reintegration assistance.

The number of Afghans returning to their homeland is expected to be the world's largest repatriation movement this year, though the returns from abroad will, nevertheless, be below the 1.8 million who repatriated over 2002.

In the last week more than 1,150 refugees left Pakistan's mountainous Chitral district for their homes in Afghanistan's Badakhshan province, a gruelling six-day trip taking them into some of the most rugged territory in the Hindu Kush. They should finally be reaching their villages today.

This week we also had voluntary returns from Russia, when 18 Afghans flew back from Moscow. They repatriated with help from a special fund to assist Afghans who lack the means to get home under their own steam, and whose host governments are unable to provide any transport assistance. The return package includes a plane ticket and a small pre-departure grant. Under this project, more than 230 Afghans have returned so far this year from India, Russia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, and various central Asian states.

In Kabul this week, UNHCR conducted a workshop for directors of the government's Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation coming from all provinces in Afghanistan, with over 100 officials participating in a three-day-long workshop opened by Minister Enyatullah Nazari and UNHCR's Chief of Mission, Filippo Grandi. Issues discussed in the workshop included the implementation of return assistance, how to link with development agencies, both within the Afghan government and donor communities.