An estimated 70,000 Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland so far this year, an indication that an increasing number of those who fled have confidence that they can live in the country despite the prevailing security and socio-economic challenges, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
The pace of returns has been on the rise in recent weeks and now averages 806 individuals per day, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement on World Refugee Day, which was marked on Sunday, adding that returns generally peak between May and August.
Over the past few months, returning refugees have cited economic factors and the difficult security situation in Pakistan, as well as local improvements in security and employment opportunities in some provinces in Afghanistan as key reasons for deciding to return, the agency said.
“Despite security constraints and challenging socio-economic conditions in Afghanistan, the voluntary repatriation of 70,000 Afghans demonstrates that many refugees are confident that there are opportunities available to return sustainably to their homeland,” said Mengeshe Kebede, UNHCR’s representative in Pakistan.
Speaking in Kabul, Afghanistan’s Acting Minister for Refugees and Repatriation, Abdul Rahim, stressed that 2.7 million refugees remained in Iran and Pakistan despite the returns.
“Continuing donor support for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development programmes is needed to attract more refugees home in future,” Mr. Rahim.
The majority of the 2.7 million registered Afghans in Pakistan and Iran have lived in exile for over two and a half decades. More than half that number was born abroad and as a result they face more complex reintegration challenges than their compatriots who left Afghanistan more recently, according to UNHCR.
The agency estimates that more than 5 million Afghans, or 20 per cent of the country’s 25 million people, have gone back home since 2002.
“There are issues related to land, property, housing, and employment that emerge daily. But the determination of the returnees to overcome these obstacles is remarkable,” said Ewen Macleod, UNHCR’s Representative in Afghanistan.
Each Afghan returning with UNHCR assistance receives a cash grant averaging about $100, depending on the distance to their area of origin.
Now in its ninth year, UNHCR’s voluntary return programme to Afghanistan is the largest return operation around the world. Since it began in 2002, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan and 865,000 from Iran with UNHCR’s help.