Thousands of returning Afghans signal start of repatriation season, UN agency says

Thousands of returning Afghans signal start of repatriation season, UN agency says

Thousands of Afghan refugees are returning home from neighbouring countries this week, a sign that the spring repatriation season has started in earnest, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

Some 1,000 Afghans registered at the Katcha Garhi refugee camp on the edge of Peshawar, Pakistan, ahead of their repatriation this week, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Over the last two days, 1,117 refugees returned from Iran, including 460 under a joint initiative by UNHCR and the Iranian Government, marking a significant increase from the winter months.

Afghan refugees going home under the facilitated return initiative receive a small travel grant of between $3 and $30, depending on the distance to their home communities, along with some food and other assistance provided inside Afghanistan.

This year, UNHCR said it expected to assist the repatriation of up to 1.2 million Afghan refugees from Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian states, and to help another 300,000 internally displaced Afghans to go back to their home areas. The agency will focus on refugees in Pakistan's more than 200 refugee camps, while continuing to facilitate the return of Afghans in Pakistan's urban areas.

The refugee agency has appealed for $195 million to fund its Afghanistan programme and to assist Afghan refugees in surrounding countries. So far, it has received only $47 million, including $16 million in carry-over funds from 2002.