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UN refugee seeks additional funds as Afghan returns from Pakistan surpass expectations

UN refugee seeks additional funds as Afghan returns from Pakistan surpass expectations

Afghan refugees in Pakistan
Afghan refugees are returning to their home country from Pakistan at a pace exceeding the expectations and resources of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the agency is appealing for additional funds to assist the returnees.

UNHCR has been able to help 300,000 refugees so far this year thanks to donor support, but “funds will soon be exhausted,” agency spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva.

Returnees receive a transport and reintegration grant and medical check-ups, with children being vaccinated for polio and measles. A transit centre near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, also provides mine awareness training.

An additional $10 million, on top of the $15 million requested this April, will allow UNHCR to support the return and reintegration of 400,000 Afghans this year, Ms. Pagonis added, bringing the new budged for the entire Afghanistan operation to nearly $110 million.

More than five million Afghans – 3.2 million from Afghanistan and 1.8 million from Iran – have returned to their country since the launch of UNHCR’s repatriation programme in 2002 following the fall of the Taliban.

Last year marked the lowest levels of returns – nearly 140,000 – since the start of the scheme due to the “deteriorating security situation and economic and social conditions inside Afghanistan,” Ms. Pagonis noted.

The current upsurge in returns are a result of the “conditions in the host countries and the policies of host governments,” she said.

UNHCR is monitoring activities in both host countries and the country of origin to ensure that repatriation is voluntary and gradual, a principle that has been agreed upon a tripartite commission comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR.

“In the longer term, the key to continued and successful return to Afghanistan will lie in improving security, raising living standards, and enlarging employment opportunities through reconstruction and development programmes in Afghanistan,” Ms. Pagonis said.

Last week, Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR agreed to extend by another three years the programme of voluntary repatriation of Afghans to their homeland.