Insecurity hindering return of Afghan refugees to their homeland, says UN agency
Many Afghan refugees living in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan are reluctant to return to their homeland due to the deteriorating security situation there and difficulty in sustaining their new lives, a senior official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.
Erika Feller, UNHCR's top protection official, has been meeting with refugees and the authorities in Iran, which is currently hosting some 920,000 Afghans who have fled violence in their country over the course of the past 20 years.
“What has struck me during this visit is the variety of situations Afghan refugees are living in and the fact that the lack of security in Afghanistan is topmost in influencing their decisions to return home,” Ms. Feller said, as she wrapped up her five-day mission.
During the peak of the refugee returns in 2004, there were up to 5,000 people going back to Afghanistan every day; that was the same number of returnees in all of 2007.
“So, we are at a turning point and have to reflect on the way forward with the Iranian authorities for those remaining here,” noted Ms. Feller.
The refugees Ms. Feller met with cited lack of security, employment, education, health clinics and access to land in Afghanistan as some of the main concerns associated with returning home. Female Afghan refugees, who can work informally and move around freely in Iran, fear they would face restrictions in Afghanistan.
“Investing in education, the skills and capacity of the refugees is really important so they can make a real contribution back home in Afghanistan to rebuilding their country, or – if they go to a new country – in restarting their lives,” she stated.
The Assistant High Commissioner for Protection lauded Iran's “very solid track record” in providing assistance to Afghan refugees, who generally have access to basic health care and education and have not been forced to return to the war-torn nation. “I heard many times how refugees feel part of this culture with a number being born here and knowing no other life,” she said.
Ms. Feller discussed the situation of the refugees and their concerns with the Government's Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigration Affairs. She hopes to conduct similar visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the months ahead.