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Insecurity, approaching winter contribute to slower returns to Afghanistan, UN reports

Insecurity, approaching winter contribute to slower returns to Afghanistan, UN reports

Unstable security conditions in parts of Afghanistan, coupled with the approaching winter, are contributing to the significant downturn in the numbers of Afghans retuning home, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in Geneva today.

The trend, which the agency first reported in August, appears to be continuing, as returns dropped from 35,800 in the first week of September to about 27,000 last week, Kris Janowski said. Since the beginning of the month, many of the Afghan refugees have gone back to central Afghanistan, including Kabul, while about a third have returned to the north, 10 per cent to the west, and 7 per cent to eastern Afghanistan.

Only 5 per cent of Afghans went back to the south, a region that shelters more than 300,000 internally displaced persons where persisting drought is discouraging people from returning, according to UNHCR.

Meanwhile, the number of refugees leaving Pakistan has declined to levels not seen since March, when the repatriation initiative began. As a result, UNHCR last Sunday closed its registration centres in Islamabad and Quetta. It will also close its centre in Karachi in a week, leaving only the Takhtabaig centre in Peshawar, which earlier this year sometimes processed more than 10,000 people daily, open to register Afghans seeking to return home.

In addition, mobile teams available in settlements hosting refugees will continue to register Afghans who want to return home, Mr. Janowski reported. In Iran, consistently large numbers of Afghans seeking repatriation assistance continue to come forward. More than 260,000 Afghans have now returned home from Iran, including over 200,000 refugees who left under the joint programme that got under way in April. More than 60,000 others returned spontaneously.