Afghan returns remain strong, says Lubbers
KABUL, April 19 (UNHCR) - High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said Sunday that UNHCR expects to see up to 1 million Afghans return to their homes this year, mainly refugees but also 50,000 to 100,000 displaced persons living mostly in southern and western Afghanistan.
Speaking at the end of his four-day visit to Afghanistan, Lubbers noted that refugee returns were on the upswing following a lull during the winter months and security problems late last year when a UNHCR aid worker was murdered in her vehicle in eastern Ghazni province.
"I do hope that after somewhat slowing down, and following the start of this year's organised returns, we will see a substantial repatriation," said the High Commissioner. "To give you an indication, we think it is possible this year to see some substantial numbers again, even up to 1 million from host countries, Iran and Pakistan."
Some 100,000 Afghans have repatriated from neighbouring countries so far in 2004.
Lubbers described the scale of the return effort over the last two years as "amazing". He also said that the return of Afghanistan's millions of exiles and internally displaced persons (IDPs) is a signal of confidence in the country and government of President Hamid Karzai.
According to the High Commissioner, UNHCR expects that by the end of 2004, no more than 100,000 displaced persons would remain in the country, considerably reduced from the over 1 million estimated displaced persons at the time the Taliban rule ended.
He stressed that more still had to be done to improve security for Afghans so that they could go home in safety.
"The first requirement for repatriation is confidence in the security in this country, the situation on the ground, the human rights dimension, the absence of violence, the possibility for people to go home in safety and dignity, and there we think more has to be done," Lubbers declared.
The refugee agency chief called on the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to work to further boost security throughout the country.
"We think that in this phase of the building of Afghanistan, one needs ISAF, and what I call an extended ISAF force, not only in the Kabul, but the capacity to support the security in the country as a whole," Lubbers said.
He suggested that one way to boost returns of certain categories of refugees needed for the country's reconstruction, such as teachers, was for the government to make state-owned land available to them.
Lubbers acknowledged that some of the more than 2 million Afghans in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are not necessarily refugees. Nonetheless, the remittances that those Afghans outside the country send back to their relatives in Afghanistan are an important source of income.
The High Commissioner said that countries need to organise what he called "flexible arrangements" so that the contributions of temporary migrant workers both to their host countries and to Afghanistan's economy are acknowledged.
During the Afghan leg of this three-nation Asian tour, his sixth visit to the region since taking office in early 2001, Lubbers met President Karzai and ministers of his government before proceeding to Pakistan for meetings on Monday with President Pervez Musharraf and Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali.