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Over half million Afghan refugees return this year

Over half million Afghan refugees return this year

The majority have come from Iran and Pakistan. Many more are expected to follow as the Afghan school year approaches and when aid is cut off at the end of August in the post-9/11 camps in Pakistan's border belt.
30 July 2004
Health workers at the UNHCR encashment centre in Kabul check refugees returning from Iran as part of the repatriation process.

KABUL, July 30 (UNHCR) - More than half a million Afghan refugees have gone home so far this year, and the strong pace of returns looks set to continue through August, with most refugees in Pakistan's post-9/11 border belt camps indicating a desire to repatriate, and others returning before the start of the Afghan school year.

Since January this year, more than 273,000 refugees have returned to Afghanistan from Iran, over 230,000 from Pakistan, and some 300 from other countries like Austria, India, Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom.

The number of returnees looks set to increase as assistance in Pakistan's "new" camps - set up near the Afghan border after the post-September 11, 2001 conflict - is halted at the end of August following a decision by Pakistan's government.

Of the new camps, there are some 127,000 Afghan refugees in Balochistan province and another 67,000 refugees in North West Frontier province.

Refugees in the 12 affected camps - six in each of the two provinces - were informed of this in June. In a recent survey, the majority said they wished to repatriate.

In all, more than 2.6 million Afghan refugees have repatriated since the UN refugee agency started its voluntary return programme in early 2002. Another 443,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned home with help from UNHCR and its partners over the same period of time.

Instruction is given to newly returned refugees on the dangers of the mines and unexploded ordnance dotting the landscape of Afghanistan.

However, there are still more than 180,000 IDPs in Afghanistan. The majority (145,000) are living in Zhare Dasht and Spin Boldak camps in the south, while the west hosts some 20,000, the north 9,000 and the east and south-east host more than 5,000 IDPs each.

Afghan refugees who return with UNHCR assistance receive a travel grant and a small cash grant to help them cope with basic needs upon arrival. The refugee agency and its partners are also working on a number of shelter, water and income generation projects to help them reintegrate in their war-devastated home areas.

There are 1.2 million registered Afghan refugees remaining in Iran and a similar number of Afghans of concern to UNHCR estimated in Pakistan.