Over 320,000 Afghans repatriated since 1 March as returns gather pace - UNHCR

Over 320,000 Afghans repatriated since 1 March as returns gather pace - UNHCR

Internally displaced Afghans leaving for their villages
More than 320,000 Afghans have returned home from neighbouring countries in less than two months, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which assists with the repatriation effort.

More than 320,000 Afghans have returned home from neighbouring countries in less than two months, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which assists with the repatriation effort.

The figure covers Afghan refugees returning since 1 March from Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, a spokesman for the agency told a press briefing in Geneva today.

Over the past three days, the rate of return from Iran reached 2,000 a day under a programme in which UNHCR monitors the voluntariness of the movement and the government provides transport up to the frontier, spokesman Kris Janowski said.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) collects the Afghans at that point and returns them to their home provinces. In less than two weeks, more than 15,000 Afghan refugees have repatriated since the programme began on April 9.

From Pakistan, more than 302,000 Afghans have repatriated on their own since 1 March after registering at the UNHCR-run centres in the country. More than 8,900 people have also returned from the now-closed Tajik border camps, and 18 Afghans have repatriated with UNHCR assistance from Turkmenistan, Mr. Janowski added.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, UNHCR was leading a nationwide effort to help thousands of people forced from their homes by decades of internal strife and famine to return to their residences and start anew, according to Mr. Janowski.

Monday saw the departure of the first internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Bamiyan to Saighan district in central Afghanistan. A convoy of 12 minibuses and 14 trucks ferried 1,396 people to 13 villages in Saighan valley. Up to 7,500 IDPs were expected to return from Bamiyan in the next eight days under a joint UNHCR-IOM programme.

Since December, the UN refugee agency has helped more than 25,600 IDPs return to their homes in central and eastern Afghanistan and plans to assist the return and reintegration of some 400,000 IDPs in 2002. Afghanistan has more than 1.2 million IDPs.

In a related development, the United Nations today received a donation of $500,000 from the World Conference on Religion and Peace for assistance to Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons. Welcoming this "act of generosity," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it was an example to people everywhere that believers from different faiths could join hands in the cause of peace.

Today’s donation marked the second instalment of a $1 million pledge. The money was raised by interfaith organizations all over the world in an effort that began last September. In a letter to Dr. William Vendley, the Secretary-General of the Conference, Mr. Annan noted that while governments required constant reminders, faith communities came forward to make donations “without us knocking on your door.”