Afghanistan marks World Refugee Day on June 20

UNHCR Kabul Press Information, 20 June 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR at the UNAMA press briefing in Kabul, attributable to UN refugee agency spokesman M. Nadir Farhad, UNHCR Public Information Section, Kabul, Afghanistan.

KABUL, June 20 (UNHCR) - Today is World Refugee Day. Every year the world honours the courage, resilience and strength of refugees on this special day. As the High Commissioner for the UN refugee agency, Mr. Antonio Guterres, says in his World Refugee Day message: "Today we are facing what may prove to be one of the greatest challenges of the century".

Almost 40 million people worldwide have been uprooted and forced to flee violence and persecution. The future is likely to see increasing numbers of people on the move. Many of them will be in search of economic opportunity and better lives or escaping environmental degradation and natural disasters. Others will be forced to flee failing states wracked by violence and persecution.

The High Commissioner also notes: "It is time to recognize that we are facing what is nothing less than a new paradigm of displacement in the 21st Century. There are no easy answers, but while the international community grapples with the root causes of displacement, it must pay more attention to protecting the vulnerable and building opportunities for their futures".

Refugee Return Figures

The rate of refugee return to Afghanistan has been higher this year as compared to 2006: So far over 245,000 Afghans have repatriated, mainly from Pakistan (243,000) and Iran (2,500). The significant number of return of Afghans from Pakistan during the grace period (over 205,000) largely account for this high return figure. During the grace period (March 1st - April 15th 2007), Afghans who had not been in position to register were offered a last opportunity to return with UNHCR's assistance.

Between March 1st and the end of June 2006, more than 78,000 Afghans returned. This year, at the same juncture, more than 245,000 have returned already representing a three-fold increase.

Since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation operation started in 2002, Afghanistan has become the world's single largest returnee receiving country, with over 4.8 million Afghans returning home - some 4 million of them under the UNHCR-assisted programme.