UNHCR facilitates Afghan group return from northern Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, April 23 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has extended its Afghan group return programme, helping hundreds of Afghan families return home from camps in northern Pakistan.
On Thursday, 1,151 Afghan refugees left Naryab, Doaba, Thal and Oblang camps in Kohat, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and went back to Afghanistan's Khost, Paktya and Logar provinces.
Among the returnees were 875 people going back under the Facilitated Group Repatriation (FGR) initiative jointly run by UNHCR and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Under this programme, UNHCR identifies families intending to return to the same location in Afghanistan but could not do so because of a problem impeding their repatriation. The problem is relayed to UNHCR staff in Afghanistan for assessment. If solvable, UNHCR Afghanistan initiates work and after completion, relays a message so that the refugees can return.
"We wanted to repatriate two years ago but could not, due to some problems in our area of origin," said Haji Awal Khan, one of the group leaders bound for Khost. "Now UNHCR Afghanistan has solved our problems like shelter, water and other needs that were hindering our return."
"We preferred to repatriate voluntarily to take part in rebuilding our country," said Yousaf, another group leader. "Afghanistan is our homeland, the sooner we return the better it is. There is no war in my area, and I am satisfied with the peace and condition of my region."
The returning group had lived in Naryab refugee camp, which is being closed by the Pakistani government to make way for the construction of a dam. They had been warned about the impending works two years ago.
"We are grateful for the hospitality of the people of Pakistan," said Haji Ayub, leader of 20 families leaving for Khost. "But I prefer to repatriate instead of constructing another house in Pakistan because the government is building a dam near my camp. Moreover, it is not my own country."
UNHCR has assisted nearly 70,000 Afghans to repatriate from Pakistan since starting its 2004 repatriation programme in March. So far, more than 38,000 refugees have returned from NWFP, 12,000 from Balochistan, some 9,000 from Sindh and more than 9,000 from Punjab and Islamabad.
In the coming weeks, more groups of refugees from northern Pakistan are expected to repatriate to Afghanistan's Khost and Paktya provinces.
"This is a sign of confidence among the Afghan refugees towards the ongoing reconstruction programmes in their areas of origin," said Richard Nduala, UNHCR Associate Repatriation Officer in Peshawar.
Under the voluntary repatriation programme, UNHCR has assisted almost 2 million Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan since the fall of the Taliban regime. The agency has made provisions to assist more than 400,000 home this year.