UNHCR chief visits southern Afghan city, pays respect to slain colleagues

News Stories, 9 November 2011

© UNHCR/M.Durrani
High Commissioner Guterres visits the damaged UNHCR office in Kandahar.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, November 9 (UNHCR) UNHCR chief António Guterres visited the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar earlier today and paid his respects to three colleagues killed there last week during an attack.

Guterres also extended condolences to the families of the slain men, Salah Mohammad, 39, Abdul Shakoor, 57, and 31-year-old Nasratallah. The three Afghan nationals died and two staff were injured in the October 31 attack.

Touring the damaged office compound, the High Commissioner said, "We are facing a tragedy for UNHCR and for the families of our dead and wounded colleagues." But he added that the refugee agency was "committed to continuing to help Afghan people who need our assistance."

An investigation into last week's attack is under way. The High Commissioner, who is on a two-day trip to Afghanistan, is expected to discuss security concerns with Afghanistan's First Vice-President Mohammad Qasim Fahim.

"UNHCR has a strictly humanitarian and non-political mandate; it is here to help Afghan refugees and also Afghans who have been internally displaced within their own country," the High Commissioner stressed.

In a special message to staff from Kabul, Guterres also praised the courage and determination of UNHCR staff in Kandahar. "Even in these very difficult circumstances, there was no interruption in UNHCR's operations, and support to our beneficiaries was fully maintained," he said.

"Everybody is firmly committed to UNHCR's mandate, to the benefit of the people we care for, and to the preservation of the humanitarian values of independence, impartiality and neutrality," added Guterres.

UNHCR has been working in Afghanistan since the 1980s, and over this period it has facilitated the return of millions of refugees and assisted other forcibly displaced people inside Afghanistan. Since 2002, more than 5.7 million Afghan refugees have voluntarily returned home mainly from Iran and Afghanistan. UNHCR assisted 4.6 million of these returnees to repatriate.




UNHCR country pages

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

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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Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

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.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

Beyond the smiles of homecoming lie the harsh realities of return. With more than 5 million Afghans returning home since 2002, Afghanistan's absorption capacity is reaching saturation point.

Landmine awareness training at UNHCR's encashment centres – their first stop after returning from decades in exile – is a sombre reminder of the immense challenges facing this war-torn country. Many returnees and internally displaced Afghans are struggling to rebuild their lives. Some are squatting in tents in the capital, Kabul. Basic needs like shelter, land and safe drinking water are seldom met. Jobs are scarce, and long queues of men looking for work are a common sight in marketplaces.

Despite the obstacles, their spirit is strong. Returning Afghans – young and old, women and men – seem determined to do their bit for nation building, one brick at a time.

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The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

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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.