Afghan refugees returning in record numbers, UNHCR reports
More than 80,000 Afghans have returned home from Pakistan over the past three weeks – a figure higher than the annual average over the past decade, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which had launched a repatriation assistance programme earlier this month.
Hailing this development, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said it “signifies a real vote of confidence by Afghans in the future of their country, and we're extremely pleased that we're able to provide some help to those who – despite the enormous challenges they will face – have made the difficult choice to go home.”
At the same time, he voiced concerns that funding would not keep pace with needs. “The enormous – and unexpected – popularity of this programme in just three short weeks also signals the pressing need for continued high levels of international donor support,” he told reporters in Geneva.
As temperatures heat up with the arrival of spring, the agency anticipates an even larger flow of returns. “We will likely be seeing hundreds of thousands more Afghans choosing to go home to rebuild their lives,” Mr. Redmond noted. “We need to have everything in place to help them make that new start and to ensure that their return is sustainable.”
Overall, UNHCR predicts that 1.2 million Afghans will go back to their homes this year, and its $271 million programme to help the returnees has received less than half of the funding needed so far. “We still have a shortfall of $152 million,” said the spokesman. “Since the vast majority of returnees are expected to go home between now and October, we urge donors to come forward with their contributions now.”