Finally, Afghans overseas can tune in to news from home
KABUL, Afghanistan, October 16 (UNHCR) - Afghans all over the world will soon be able to keep their ears to the ground with objective, up-to-date information on Afghanistan, thanks to a new radio programme by the UN refugee agency and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
UNHCR is funding a new BBC Radio series, called "Return", to provide accurate information on Afghanistan to those wishing to return home, and to offer a forum for wider debate on all aspects of repatriation and reintegration.
"The future of Afghanistan depends to a large extent on how well it balances the needs and desires of various forces at play in the region," said Filippo Grandi, UNHCR's chief of mission in the country. "The key is the dissemination of messages that are both transparent and consistent."
"Return" will start on Saturday, October 19, and be aired five times a week - Saturday to Wednesday. It will be broadcast in BBC's popular service in Dari and Pashto, Afghanistan's main languages, at local time 10:30-11 am (0600-0630 GMT) and 3:30-4 pm (1100-1130 GMT), on 15420 kHz (19 metre band) and 17870 kHz (16 metre band) short wave.
To help Afghans make informed decisions about returning, the new programme will include news about Afghan refugees and internally displaced people, as well as more in-depth features on security, the threat of landmines, relief aid, reintegration and development.
At the same time, UNHCR's staff in Kabul are putting out a fortnightly information bulletin that will serve as the basis for the refugee agency's communications campaign for Afghans overseas. A network of local Afghans will report out of five main UNHCR offices in the country, and draw support from the agency's presence in 21 offices and field units - the largest among the international organisations operating in Afghanistan.
In April, UNHCR started broadcasting a 30-minute twice-weekly radio programme in Dari and Pasto over Afghanistan radio. The new programme and bulletin seek to share the information with a wider audience of Afghans around the world.
"Return" is not the first time UNHCR is collaborating with BBC in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of September 11, the two organisations worked together to broadcast an emergency humanitarian programme for six months, from December 2001 to May 2002.
More than 1.7 million Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian states since UNHCR and governments in the region began an initiative to facilitate voluntary returns in March. Another 300,000 internally displaced people have received help in going home. The returns are the largest and swiftest since the end of Indo-Pakistan war in the early 1970s.
The pace of return has slowed in recent weeks, dropping to around 2,000 returns per day from a high of 20,000 per day in May. Small groups of Afghan returnees have begun trickling back to Pakistan, prompted by the approaching winter, lack of shelter and basic facilities in a country reeling from two decades of civil conflict and severe drought in recent years.
More than 3 million Afghans remain in the neighbouring countries, in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Europe and North America.
Outlining UNHCR's repatriation plans for next year, Grandi said the agency will continue its programme to facilitate voluntary returns, while at the same time attempting to meet the government's wish for a phased repatriation to make it more durable.
"If the rate of returns is not gradual, it will not be sustainable," said Grandi. "UNHCR will strive to maintain a balance."