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Afghanistan: return of Kabul internally displaced to begin

Briefing notes

Afghanistan: return of Kabul internally displaced to begin

4 March 2002

UNHCR and the Afghan government on Wednesday will start helping more than 15,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Kabul city to return to their homes in the Shomali region of central Afghanistan. The Afghans fled their homes nearly three years ago and have been squatting in filthy conditions at the old Soviet Compound in Kabul. Their villages and farms on the frontline of the Afghan civil war were pillaged and destroyed by the Taliban and much of the once fertile and prosperous Shomali plain reduced to a barren wasteland.

We are co-ordinating the two-week-long return initiative and providing an aid package consisting of tents, plastic sheets, blankets, buckets, shawls, soap, clothing and charcoal. WFP will distribute 150 kgs of wheat to each family and IOM will transport them to their villages. CARE, ACTED and the Japanese NGO, JEN are also offering assistance to the returnees.

To help the IDPs pick up the pieces and rebuild their homes, UNHCR will also provide a standard package of shelter materials to each family. The package will consist of beams, doors, windows, door- and window-frames as well as hammers, axes, nails and door hinges. In addition, the returnees will receive a seed and implements kit to help them cultivate the land and once again start growing crops.

This is the second UNHCR-assisted return to the Shomali plain. Between December 2001 and January 2002, the UN refugee agency and its partners helped move more than 8,000 Afghans from the Panjshir valley in Kapisa province, while another 8,000 are known to have spontaneously returned.

Since December, UNHCR has distributed thousands of winterization packages to 138,600 IDPs in Central Afghanistan's Bamyan, Ghazni, Kabul, Kapisa, Parwan and Wardak provinces to help them through the harsh winter.

The combined effects of hunger, drought and war have internally displaced over 1.2 million Afghans, some 200,000 of whom originate from the Shomali plain. During 2002, UNHCR plans to assist help some 400,000 internally displaced Afghans to return to their villages of origin.

Elsewhere, day three of the UNHCR-facilitated repatriation via our first registration centre in Pakistan at Takhta Baig, near Peshawar, has seen thousands of Afghans sign up for our aid package and head back to Afghanistan. Today we've seen more than 450 families pass through, most of them people heading back to Kabul or Jalalabad. Monday saw more than 3,000 Afghans return under the UNHCR-assisted programme.

Over the coming weeks, we will be opening six more registration centres in Pakistan that will be able to process up to 5,000 people a day. Ten similar centres are planned for Iran, where the voluntary repatriation programme will kick off on 1 April.