Number of Afghans returning home from Pakistan continues to grow
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, March 12 (UNHCR) - Thousands of Afghans continue to take advantage of voluntary return programmes established by the refugee agency and the interim Afghan government, with more than 4,400 former refugees crossing the border into the country from Pakistan Monday.
The latest crossings brought to 18,464 the number of returnees who have benefited from the agency's assisted return programme in just eleven days. In addition, more than 3,800 people have returned to their villages in the Shomali Plain in central Afghanistan from the former Soviet compound in Kabul.
On Monday, 4,472 refugees crossed into Afghanistan and 824 displaced people returned to their homes in the Shomali Plain, a once plentiful breadbasket now devastated by years of war and drought.
Under the return programme, Afghans must go to one of the registration points opened by the agency, where they are given transportation money and a voucher they can use to obtain food and return kits from distribution points once they arrive in their home region.
Thus far, UNHCR has opened five such distribution areas, three in the eastern region and two in central Afghanistan. In all, the agency plans to open 32 distribution points in the war-ravaged country, that will be managed by the German NGO GTZ.
The refugee agency said in a statement Tuesday that it was discussing with the Interim Afghan government and other U.N. agencies how "to address the long-term development needs of the refugees and the internally displaced persons and how to help their home communities."
In a related development, UNHCR said it expected to start assisting Afghan refugees in Iran return home beginning April 1. Eight registration centres have already been established, where the returnees from Iran will receive the same assistance as those returning from Pakistan.
The Iranian government has agreed to allow each Afghan leaving the country to return with as much as $1,000 and an unlimited amount in local Afghan and Iranian currencies. Families may also repatriate with personal effects valued at up to $1,000.
"This should help to encourage Afghans, many of whom have been living in Iran for decades, to return," the agency said in its statement.
There are currently 1.5 million Afghan refugees in Iran and two million in Pakistan. The refugee agency expects to help 800,000 refugees return home from the two countries and to aid 400,000 internally displaced persons inside Afghanistan return to their homes.