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Refugee returns to Afghanistan largest in 30 years, UN agency says

Refugee returns to Afghanistan largest in 30 years, UN agency says

The more than 1.6 million Afghans who have returned home since March constitute the largest single refugee repatriation in 30 years, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

According to a spokesman for the UN agency, more than 1.63 million people have returned to Afghanistan over the past six months. By adding the estimates of spontaneous returns since late 2001, more than 1.9 million Afghans have repatriated to the war-torn country.

In 1972, more than 9.8 million Bengalis who had earlier fled East Pakistan returned to Bangladesh, Ron Redmond told a press briefing in Geneva.

Thousands of Afghan refugees continue to repatriate daily, although the pace from Pakistan has been rapidly declining, the spokesman said. "There has, however, been an increase in returns from Iran," Mr. Redmond said. "Considering the state of Afghanistan's infrastructure and the security problems that still affect many areas, this is an astonishing number."

August saw the lowest number of refugees going back under the joint UNHCR-Afghan Transitional Authority repatriation operation that began in March. Over 196,000 returned home last month – less than half the more than 412,000 refugees who went back in May when the repatriation reached its peak.

In all, more than 1.44 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan, according to Mr. Redmond, while the total number of assisted returns from Iran stood at over 180,000 plus an additional 55,000 spontaneous returnees since April. Meanwhile, some 10,000 Afghans have gone back from the Central Asian states with UNHCR assistance.

UNHCR estimates that 2 million Afghans will return home this year, although the number of refugees and other Afghans still outside the country is difficult to assess because of the large number of migrant workers in countries like Pakistan and Iran, Mr. Redmond said.