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UNHCR's Afghanistan shelter programme tops 200,000 homes mark

News Stories, 14 December 2010

© UNHCR/R.Arnold
A refugee returnee in Mazar-e-Sharif builds a new home with assistance from UNHCR.

KABUL, Afghanistan, December 14 (UNHCR) UNHCR's shelter programme in Afghanistan reached a new milestone this week with the completion of the 200,000th home for a returnee family.

The programme, launched in 2002, has been an important element in the return and reintegration of some 4.5 million refugees over the past eight years. It has cost US$250 million but has benefitted some 1.4 million people or around a quarter of all returnees.

"UNHCR's housing programme addresses a fundamental need for refugee families as they return to their communities and restart their lives. With a secure place to live, families are better placed to meet the challenge of reintegration after long years of exile," said Ewen Macleod, UNHCR's representative in Afghanistan.

Despite insecurity, Afghans have continued returning every year from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, and in significant numbers. The biggest wave of returns was between 2002 and 2005, but this year has nonetheless seen return levels exceeding 112,000 people.

The prospect of a secure home is regularly cited by Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan as one of their primary requirements before making a decision to return. This year alone, UNHCR has helped more than 17,000 vulnerable returnee families with shelter assistance. Much of the actual work of construction is carried out by beneficiaries themselves.

The return of millions of Afghans has increased the estimated population of Afghanistan by some 20 per cent. Returnees have contributed importantly in many economic sectors, bringing skills, know-how and capital accumulated during their life in exile. But this huge population movement has also challenged the country's socio-economic absorption capacities, particularly on poor rural communities with limited resources.

For that reason, UNHCR's housing programme has focused on rural areas to which significant numbers of families have returned from both Iran and Pakistan. The bulk of the new houses are in the central region (55,614), the east (47,571) and the north and north-east (42,243).

UNHCR believes that improved security and continued social and economic development will be critical to future return and reintegration perspectives. At present, however, humanitarian conditions remain fragile.

As such, due to the continuing high incidence of poor, homeless families within the returnee population, UNHCR's housing programme will continue in 2011 at a similar level to previous years to support the sustainable reintegration of returning Afghan refugees.

By Mohammad Nader Farhad in Kabul, Afghanistan




UNHCR country pages


One of the first things that people need after being forced to flee their homes, whether they be refugees or internally displaced, is some kind of a roof over their head.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

The port city of Aden in southern Yemen has long been a destination for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants after making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa. Since May 2011, Aden also has been providing shelter to tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing fighting between government forces and armed groups in neighbouring Abyan governorate.

Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

Many IDPs expected their displacement would not be for long. They wish to return home, but cannot do so due to the fighting. Moreover, some are fearful of reprisals if they return to areas where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged in bombings.

UNHCR has provided emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting and wood stoves, to almost 70,000 IDPs from Abyan. Earlier this year, UNHCR rehabilitated two buildings, providing shelter for 2,000 people and allowing 3,000 children, IDPs and locals, to resume schooling in proper classrooms. UNHCR is advocating with the authorities for the conversion of additional public buildings into transitional shelters for the thousands of IDPs still living in schools.

Photographer Pepe Rubio Larrauri travelled to Aden in March 2012 to document the day-to-day lives of the displaced.

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With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

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Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

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