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Afghanistan: Returns this year break 400,000

Briefing notes

Afghanistan: Returns this year break 400,000

26 August 2003

Refugee returns to Afghanistan so far this year surpassed 400,000 over the weekend. More than a quarter million Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan, while 143,000 Afghans have left Iran, including some 58,000 spontaneous returnees.

The number of those repatriated this year is second only to the unprecedented return of 1.8 million refugees who went back to Afghanistan in 2002. There are still several months left in the repatriation season, and this year's total number is likely to be much higher.

Since the organised repatriation began in March 2002, more than 2.32 million have returned home. A similar number of refugees remain in Pakistan and Iran, the two principal asylum countries.

More than 10,000 Afghans are returning weekly, half the number of weekly returns we saw in May and June but still a substantial figure. We've also assisted 440 Afghans to go back from 14 other countries, both in the region and as distant as Cambodia and Brazil.

The success of this still massive repatriation has been marred by a spate of recent attacks that have killed aid workers and injured many Afghans, hindering the delivery of relief aid to some parts of the country. Our office in Kunar province remains closed following a rocket attack two weeks ago in which a missile landed less than 400 metres from the premises.

Aid workers operating in Afghanistan's southern and south-eastern provinces must observe strict security guidelines following numerous security incidents over the last year. Kandahar and the neighbouring Hilmand Province have been the scene of several security incidents involving aid workers in recent weeks. An international ICRC worker was killed in Kandahar Province earlier this year.

In Kabul, a two-day tripartite commission meeting between the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR opens today to review repatriation issues. This second meeting of the Tripartite Commission follows a meeting held in Islamabad at the end of May that helped resolve the long-pending issue of the makeshift "waiting area" camp at Chaman. Over the two-day meeting we'll be looking together with the two governments at ways to consolidate or close some of Pakistan's refugee camps.

Seventy percent of this year's more than 260,000 returnees from Pakistan have gone back from urban areas, while only 78,000 have returned from refugee camps. With the participation of the UN's Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the Tripartite Commission will also discuss procedures to involve Afghan refugees in the current constitutional process and the elections scheduled for next year.