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More than 1 million Afghans return home, top UN refugee official says

More than 1 million Afghans return home, top UN refugee official says

Ruud Lubbers
The number of Afghans going home topped the 1 million mark today, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR) announced on Monday.

"We've passed the 1 million mark and now expect that up to 2 million Afghans could return home this year," High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said, in a statement issued by UNHCR.

However, the High Commissioner warned that the returnees were not yet receiving the international support they needed.

"Fresh contributions of funds and food aid are urgently needed. The new Government of President Karzai urgently needs international support. The Afghan people require a smooth and rapid transition from relief to development to ensure they have jobs and don't find themselves in deeper poverty," Mr. Lubbers explained.

And Filippo Grandi, the Kabul-based head of UNHCR's Afghan operations, told reporters at the Pul-i-Charkhi returnee centre on Sunday that if larger reconstruction programmes did not begin quickly in Afghanistan, the returns could be in jeopardy.

The largest number of returnees - some 920,000 - have come from neighbouring Pakistan. Over 75,000 Afghan people have repatriated from Iran, as part of an operation that started in April, and another 9,000 have returned from Central Asian States.

Initially, Afghan authorities and UNHCR expected some 800,000 Afghans would return home from outside the country, with an additional 400,000 people displaced inside Afghanistan also heading home to their villages.

UNHCR says the current pace of return has exceeded the expectations of relief agencies. More than $86 million is still needed for the agency's aid operation in Afghanistan and neighbouring States.