Iran: Bamyan representatives in Afghan return talks
Four representatives from Afghanistan's central province of Bamyan were in Iran this week to talk to Afghan refugees about the situation in Afghanistan and facilitate their return to their homeland. The visit was the first of its kind and was organised by UNHCR and Iranian and Afghan officials. The delegation, led by Bamyan Governor Rahim Ali Yarzada, held meetings attended by 250 refugees in Tehran, 200 in nearby Karaj and 500 in the eastern city of Mashad near Afghanistan. The delegates also took part in smaller, focus group meetings on education, women, NGOs, business and employment.
The delegates told the refugees Bamyan is one of Afghanistan's safest provinces, but is in dire need of professional workers, especially in education, health and engineering. The governor said the province needs 1,000 teachers. A university is opening in Bamyan in March. The delegates said that houses are being built, but much remains to be done. However, for some professionals, housing would be made immediately available. For the most vulnerable Afghans, UNHCR runs a scheme to allow them to build their own shelter.
This visit comes at a crucial time in Afghanistan's reconstruction, with planned elections in June. The delegates were warmly received by refugees, and the meetings generated much interest. UNHCR will work on addressing the issues that were raised during the meetings to facilitate the return of Afghan refugees who want to take part in Afghanistan's reconstruction.
Iran, Afghanistan and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement on the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees in April 2002. The agreement was renewed in March 2003, and will last until March 2005. Since April 2002, more than 658, 000 Afghan refugees have repatriated from Iran - host to 1.7 million Afghans, about 1 million of them refugees.
So far this year, some 2,500 refugees have returned to Afghanistan - mainly from Iran, but also from seven other countries. UNHCR also helped repatriate almost 1,000 survivors of the devastating earthquake that struck the eastern Iranian city of Bam last month. Since early 2002, more than 2.5 million refugees have returned to Pakistan.
UN-facilitated returns from Pakistan are still suspended following the murder of UNHCR's Bettina Goislard last November at Ghazni in Afghanistan. The incident prompted the withdrawal of UN staff in Ghazni and other offices in south and south-eastern Afghanistan. In line with the rest of the UN family, we have redeployed essential staff to Gardez, Kandahar and Jalalabad, and we are looking at ways to safely resume assisting refugees to return from Pakistan and restart our monitoring of shelter and water projects.
By the end of 2003 we had completed 82 percent of our planned 3,738 water projects across the country. The remaining wells and other initiatives should largely be done by the end of March.