International film star and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations refugee agency Angelina Jolie has appealed for greater support for Afghan returnees, particularly as the harsh winter approaches, as she wrapped up her first visit to the strife-torn nation.
Ms. Jolie’s three-day visit, which ended yesterday, was aimed at raising awareness of the refugee issue ahead of an international conference on return and reintegration to be held in the Afghan capital Kabul in December.
Although this was her first visit to the country, she is familiar with the Afghan repatriation operation – one of the biggest carried out by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – having met with Afghan refugees in neighbouring Pakistan twice in recent years.
During her trip, Ms. Jolie visited recent returnees in the eastern province of Nangarhar, where almost 20 per cent of all Afghans who return to the homeland have settled since 2002.
The returnees, who are living on desolate, desert land in tattered tents and makeshift shelters, told her they could not return to their places of origin due to a lack of land and poor security. She also visited UNHCR income-generating projects for vulnerable women in Jalalabad city.
“The courage, resilience and quiet dignity of returnee families rebuilding their lives against the kind of adversity few of us can imagine shows the human spirit at its best,” said the actress, humanitarian and mother of six.
Ms. Jolie also visited families in Kabul who had returned from Pakistan in 2003 but have still been unable to go back to their home villages. The families have been squatting in public buildings in Kabul for several years due to the lack of available land in Parwan, their province of origin, according to UNHCR.
The returnees explained that landlessness and insecurity were not the only obstacles to return. Economic problems in rural areas such as a lack of employment opportunities also influenced their decision to remain in Kabul despite the difficulties they face there.
Despite the huge returns to Afghanistan – over five million people have gone home over the past six years – some three million registered refugees remain in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan.
Next month’s conference in Kabul, co-chaired by the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNHCR, will address how best to ensure the sustainable return of refugees and the displaced in the years to come.