The number of Afghan refugees trickling home from Iran and Pakistan plummeted this year, with the United Nations refugee agency pinning the blame for the low number of returns on insecurity, limited economic opportunities and political insecurity in the wake of August’s national polls.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 54,000 Afghans returned to their home country this year, just one-fifth the number that returned in 2008.
The majority of the returnees were from Pakistan, while some 5,000 repatriated from Iran and another 200 from non-neighbouring countries.
About 1.8 million Afghans refugees returned from Pakistan and Iran immediately after the fall of the Taliban in 2002, as compared with 278,000 who returned in 2008.
In an update, UNHCR noted that the upsurge in violence in the country since 2006 has rekindled refugees’ concerns, not only about their security and the political stability of their country, but the viability of supporting their families in their homeland under current conditions.
“The gap between the living conditions and economic opportunities in Afghanistan and the neighbouring countries is considerable,” the agency said.
It also pointed out that the majority of Afghans registered in Pakistan and Iran have lived in exile for more than a quarter of a century since the Soviet invasion in 1979, and that half of them have never lived in Afghanistan. At this time, some 1.7 million registered Afghans continue to live in Pakistan and some 935,000 remain in Iran.
Since 2002, around 5 million Afghan refugees have decided to return, swelling the overall population in Afghanistan by 20 per cent.
UNHCR plans to build a further 10,000 housing units for returnees next year, bring the total number the agency has helped erect to nearly 200,000 since 2002.