For an Afghan refugee family, reports from home spur a return

News Stories, 5 January 2012

© UNHCR/J.Tareen
Anaar Gul registers his return to Afghanistan at a UNHCR voluntary repatriation centre, near Quetta in southern Pakistan. Though born in Pakistan, the refugee feels the time is right to return to his homeland.

QUETTA, Pakistan, January 5 (UNHCR) Having never seen his homeland before, Anaar Gul, an Afghan refugee, has mixed feelings about leaving Pakistan where he was born and raised.

But those reservations are outweighed by the mounting anticipation he feels at seeing an ancestral village that he knows only through the stories of his elders.

The decision by the 27 year-old to return to Afghanistan with his wife, daughter and parents has not been taken lightly. Speaking to UNHCR staff at a Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Quetta, Gul explains that relatives have reassured them that the security situation and the economic prospects in the family's home village in southern Helmand province have both improved.

Gul, who has been working with his father as a daily wage labourer since the age of 15, believes that by returning home he can earn more than the 200 rupees (US$ 2) he earns on an average day in Pakistan.

"Our relatives tell us that we can earn 600 rupees (US$ 8) a day in road construction work. That is enough to enable us to spend a decent life in our own country," he said.

Since 2002, UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme has assisted more than 3.7 million Afghan refugees to return home. In 2011, some 50,000 Afghan refugees repatriated from Pakistan, making it one of the largest return operations in the world even though the number was significantly less than 110,000 who returned in 2010.

UNHCR provided Afghans returning home in 2011 with a cash grant that, on average, amounted to US$ 150 per person. The amount represented a 50 per cent increase from previous years in recognition of the mounting costs faced by returning refugees.

Each Afghan refugee makes an informed and voluntary decision to return based on their knowledge of the situation at home. At the UNHCR Voluntary Repatriation Centres, the refugees sign a Voluntary Repatriation Form (VRF) which is a declaration of their voluntary decision to return.

Gul and his family plan to stay with relatives in Helmand while they look for work and a place to live. Around 12 percent of Afghan refugees have returned to the country's southern provinces such as Helmand, with almost 30 percent settling in the country's eastern provinces bordering Pakistan.

As a child, Gul remembers being referred to as a refugee and how that would stir feelings of isolation within him.

"With the passage of time, I mingled with the locals and now I feel that I am more like a Pakistani," he said. He then demonstrated the point by naming the president of Pakistan while admitting he could not do the same for the Afghan leader.

Gul said he will always cherish the generosity and hospitality of the people of Pakistan who extended their support to Afghans during a difficult time.

Even as he was leaving, he said, his friends and neighbours were looking out for him. "Last night they offered me some money. Today we have been getting calls from people checking to see if we are alright."

By Qaiser Khan Afridi in Quetta

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UNHCR country pages

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

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

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.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

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.
Angelina Jolie visits Baghdad   Play video

Angelina Jolie visits Baghdad

On her recent trip to the Middle East, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie met internally displaced Iraqis and refugee returnees to Baghdad.
South Sudan: Nearly HomePlay video

South Sudan: Nearly Home

The returnees head by bus for their ancestral home in South Sudan. Some are jubilant. Others are apprehensive.