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UN refugee agency starts repatriating Afghans from Iran

UN refugee agency starts repatriating Afghans from Iran

The United Nations refugee agency today began repatriating Afghans from Iran – an effort which is expected to return 400,000 people to Afghanistan this year alone.

The initial repatriation involved 146 Afghans returning through the Islam Qala crossing point, west of Herat, according to Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The agency is briefing all returnees about the danger of landmines and security conditions inside Afghanistan. In addition, UNHCR is providing relief supplies such as plastic tarpaulins, stoves, blankets, quilts, sweaters and hygiene materials, while the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is furnishing a food ration.

Tension in western Afghanistan forced UNHCR to halt plans to repatriate Afghans from Iran directly to the region starting today, he said. “Instead we have had to send some 21 families homewards via Islam Qala, to the north.”

In eastern Afghanistan, meanwhile, Mr. Janowski reported that security problems have disrupted returns from Pakistan. “The bombing in Jalalabad yesterday that killed several bystanders as the Afghan Defence Minister was passing took place near UNHCR distribution centre, which is closed today,” he said. “We hope that security can be restored throughout the region in the next days so that Afghans can again travel via the main Torkham crossing.”

Tension is rising at Takhta Baig, just outside Peshawar, where thousands await the reopening of traffic from Torkham into Afghanistan, according to the spokesman. “The refugees are anxious as truck drivers charge them $6 a day while they wait at the crowded site, and everyone wants to see the situation resolved as soon as possible.”