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UN refugee agency gears up for returns of Afghans from Iran and Pakistan

UN refugee agency gears up for returns of Afghans from Iran and Pakistan

As spontaneous returns of Afghans to their home areas from neighbouring countries gained momentum, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said it was ready to begin helping as many as 250,000 over the next two to three months on their journey back.

“Organized repatriation convoys are not expected to begin until late March,” UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski told a press briefing in Geneva. “This year, we’re planning for returns of some 800,000 Afghans from both Iran and Pakistan and will also assist another 400,000 displaced persons inside Afghanistan.”

UNHCR offices inside Afghanistan will soon begin distributing plastic tarpaulins, blankets, jerry cans, buckets and kitchen utensils to returnees, Mr. Janowski said. The agency currently has 11 offices open in Afghanistan, including two in Kabul for regional coordination and to cover central Afghanistan. There are four other sub-offices in Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Kandahar and five field offices in Islam Qala, Zaranj, Spin Boldak, Puli-khumri and Kunduz. In all, the agency plans to open 22 offices across the country to ensure it reaches as many Afghans as possible.

Over the weekend, key roads leading into eastern and central Afghanistan were declared safe for travel by relief workers, a move that will ease the delivery of UNHCR’s relief items and further enhance its ability to reach key areas of the country, Mr. Janowski said.

Kabul was now accessible for aid workers from both the north and east following a successful UN security mission on Sunday over the Jalalabad-Kabul road, passing through Sarobi District, where four journalists were killed last November. The spokesman added that the opening of this route enables the movement of both aid workers and supplies overland from Peshawar, Pakistan, through to Kabul.

Meanwhile, the situation in Herat continues to stabilize, although the massive number of displaced persons concentrated in camps around the city remained a problem, Mr. Janowski said. “UNHCR continues to play a supportive role with IOM [the International Organization for Migration] in organizing the registration at the sprawling Maslakh site, which shelters more than 150,000 people,” he said.