Afghanistan: returns from Pakistan to Kandahar
The first group of Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan this year with UNHCR assistance left Pishin District of Pakistan's Baluchistan Province earlier today bound for the Kandahar region of south-western Afghanistan.
The 41 refugee families (some 220 persons) who volunteered for the first convoy have been living in Pakistan for some 20 years. They organized their own transport back to Afghanistan using funds provided by UNHCR. UNHCR staff accompanied the refugees up to the border, where crossing formalities have already been negotiated with the Taliban authorities. The latest word is that they are now at the border. Once inside Afghanistan, UNHCR staff based in Kandahar will escort them back to their home areas.
Each returning family is expected to receive 6,000 Pakistani rupees ($90) and a plastic tarpaulin, plus 150 kgs of wheat flour provided by the World Food Programme.
UNHCR halted the returnee convoys from Pakistan last November when it ran out of funds needed to finance the operation, leaving several thousand anxious refugees in the lurch. In recent months, Afghans in the south-western Pakistan city of Quetta have been protesting outside UNHCR's office and calling on the agency to restart the repatriation programme.
Last year more than 76,800 Afghan refugees returned home from Pakistan with UNHCR assistance.
Pakistan and neighbouring Iran each shelter some 2 million Afghan refugees. Even though more than 4 million have returned home since 1989, a constantly evolving conflict has led to new waves of refugees, ensuring that Afghans have continued to hold the unhappy record of being the single largest refugee group in the world for two decades.
A second, larger convoy of refugees should be leaving Baluchistan Province within the week. Additional groups of Afghan refugees are expected to opt to return to non-war-affected parts of Afghanistan over the coming months.