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Refugees Magazine Issue 108 (Afghanistan : the unending crisis) - Gifts from Japan

Refugees Magazine, 1 June 1997

Many Afghan child refugees have never had a gift in their lives. Japanese girl scouts are bringing a little joy to their lives.

By Veslemoy Naerland

The little Afghan girl said she had never owned a toy in her life. Now she was happily skipping a rope for the first time. Other Afghan refugee children excitedly unwrapped presents containing inexpensive pencils, crayons and notebooks. Girls weaved ribbons through their hair and proudly wore them for weeks afterwards. They may have cost very little, but the gifts were the most precious objects these children have ever owned.

Aid for Afghanistan comes in many forms. One of the most unusual, and touching, is the annual visit to the region by members of the Japanese girl scout movement as part of the worldwide peace pack programme launched jointly by UNHCR and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 1993. Since then, girls in 52 countries have collected more than 260,000 packs for refugee children around the world.

The Japanese movement concentrated on Afghanistan. In 1995 and 1996, the peace packs were distributed directly to children inside Afghanistan, as well as in Pakistan. This year, because of the continuing civil war and political instability, they have so far only been distributed in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Fifty thousand Japanese girls had spent the previous year collecting 13,536 packages. In March, a delegation of six Japanese Girl Scout leaders and their trainer inaugurated the distribution of the first of the packages in the city of Peshawar and the rural Dir district bordering Afghanistan. It is hoped the distribution can be completed inside Afghanistan later this year if the situation there stabilizes and schools, especially for girls, reopen.

The peace packs included educational materials such as pencils, notebooks, erasers and rulers and other items such as toys, T-shirts and toiletries. Each group of items had a particular importance. Most children in less developed countries, especially refugees, are desperately keen to receive an education and the crayons and rulers stressed the importance of schooling to parents, teachers and children alike. The other items were pure luxury. Few of the children had ever owned a bar of soap or a toothbrush in their lives.

For one day, as the Japanese girls handed out their gifts, the children became the focus of attention of the whole village, enjoying what for them was the first brush with luxury in their lives. Teachers watched startled as their normally subdued and shy pupils burst into spontaneous song. As a morale booster, and an important and practical addition to the lives of the refugees, "the value of these packs is impossible to quantify," said one teacher at a girl's school in Dir.

Source: Refugees Magazine issue 108 (1997)




UNHCR country pages

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Afghan Refugees in Iran

At a recent conference in Geneva, the international community endorsed a "solutions strategy" for millions of Afghan refugees and those returning to Afghanistan after years in exile. The plan, drawn up between Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and UNHCR, aims to support repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries.

It will benefit refugee returnees to Afghanistan as well as 3 million Afghan refugees, including 1 million in Iran and 1.7 million in Pakistan.

Many of the refugees in Iran have been living there for more than three decades. This photo set captures the lives of some of these exiles, who wait in hope of a lasting solution to their situation.

Afghan Refugees in Iran

More focus needed on reintegration of former Afghan refugees

Many of the more than 5.5 million Afghan refugees who have returned home since 2002 are still struggling to survive. Lack of land, job opportunities and other services, combined with poor security in some places, has caused many returnees to head to urban areas. While cities offer the promise of informal day labour, the rising cost of rental accommodation and basic commodities relegate many returnees to life in one of the informal settlements which have mushroomed across Kabul in recent years. Some families are living under canvases and the constant threat of eviction, while others have gained a toe-hold in abandoned buildings around the city.

UNHCR gives humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable, and is currently rallying support from donors and humanitarian and development agencies to redouble efforts to help returning refugees reintegrate in Afghanistan.

More focus needed on reintegration of former Afghan refugees

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Croatia; Destination Unknown

Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan HomecomingPlay video

Afghanistan Homecoming

Since 2002, UNHCR has helped nearly 4 million Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan. Recently, Ahmed Shafiq made the journey with his family after 15 years as a refugee. This is his story.