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Some 10,000 Afghans returned home from Pakistan in March, reports UN agency

Some 10,000 Afghans returned home from Pakistan in March, reports UN agency

Afghan children in refugee camp in Pakistan
Since the start of a new repatriation season almost one month ago, some 10,000 Afghans have returned to their homeland from neighbouring Pakistan, the United Nation refugee agency reported today.

Salvatore Lombardo, Country Representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Afghanistan, told journalists in Kabul that the majority of the returns are to the eastern part of the country, with some 50 to 60 per cent of the latest group going to Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman provinces.

“The first indications tell us that we are at around the same level of returns that we saw in 2006 and to a certain extent in 2005,” he stated.

Repatriation from Pakistan was the key focus of discussions held a few days ago in Dubai between UNHCR and the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Among the issues raised was the deteriorating security situation in some parts of Afghanistan, the country’s capacity to absorb new returnees and reintegration challenges, including lack of shelter and water in some areas. A similar meeting was held in early March with UNHCR and the Governments of Afghanistan and Iran.

He noted that insecurity and unemployment are the main concerns Afghans have regarding the decision to return to their homeland. “In discussions with the Afghan population both in Pakistan and Iran, and also when they come back, the question of jobs is really at the top of their list,” Mr. Lombardo said.

Together with the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, UNHCR has had the largest shelter programme in the country for the past several years, contributing to the construction of over 100,000 houses in rural areas. “We will continue to do that with an additional 8,000 houses that will certainly benefit a large number of the returnee population,” stated Mr. Lombardo. The agency also provides a cash grant of $100 per person to the returnees.

In Dubai, the parties also discussed the holding of an international conference this fall on return and reintegration, which will be hosted by UNHCR and the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

There are some two million registered Afghans in Pakistan and approximately one million in Iran. UNHCR expects between 150,000 to 200,000 Afghans to return from Pakistan this year – similar to 2005 and 2006. Meanwhile, the number of returns from Iran has been relatively low in the past couple of years, and Mr. Lombardo said he expects it to remain that way this year.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said today that the new Special Representative, Kai Eide, has met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and key Government ministers since arriving last Friday.

Mr. Eide and the Secretary-General will attend the NATO summit later this week in Bucharest, Romania, where Afghanistan will be discussed in a special meeting this Thursday.