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UN refugee agency launches new programme for returning Afghans

UN refugee agency launches new programme for returning Afghans

With the arrival of Spring and growing stability in Afghanistan, the United Nations refugee agency today repatriated 150 Afghans as part of a larger programme aimed at helping the country’s beleaguered people return home.

Friday’s repatriation was the first UN-aided return movement to Afghanistan since 11 September, when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) suspended its assistance to Afghans heading home following the terrorist attacks against the United States.

“The voluntary repatriation of these Afghans heralds a new beginning for Afghanistan, but also the beginning of the end of exile for many of the 3.5 million Afghan refugees under my care,” said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers, who is currently touring refugee camps in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

Mr. Lubbers emphasized the world’s shared responsibility for helping Afghans. “The international community must ensure that both the interim authority and the relief agencies working to help Afghanistan get back on its feet continue to receive the support these people require.”

The refugees returning home on Friday hired their own transport and passed by the UN refugee agency’s newly opened Voluntary Repatriation Centre just outside of Peshawar, where they received documentation that will enable them to get a transport allowance of $20 per person or up to $100 per family on their arrival in Afghanistan. Once back in their home provinces, they will also receive various assistance items, including blankets, tools, a plastic tarpaulin, a kitchen set and hygienic materials, as well as a three-month supply of food from the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).

In total, the UN refugee agency plans to set up seven repatriation centres in Pakistan to cope with an anticipated increase in the number of returnees this Spring. Each centre will be able to process up to 5,000 persons a day. Similar facilities are being established in Iran.

Meanwhile inside Afghanistan, the UN reported that displaced persons living in Maslakh camp in Herat began returning to their home villages – a development hailed as an “important move which may lead to the eventual closure of the camp.”

In a statement released in Herat, the Office of the UN Coordinator for Afghanistan said each of the 77 departing families received a tent, blankets, cooking materials, wheat, seeds and fertilizer. They are also slated to receive farming kits to enable them to establish a more permanent source of food and income.