Pakistan, UNHCR agree new regional approach to Afghan refugees

News Stories, 2 February 2012

© PID/Pakistan
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres meets Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to discuss the new regional strategy earlier today

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, February 2 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Thursday thanked Pakistan for its hospitality towards Afghan refugees while praising its continued commitment to finding lasting solutions to the situation.

During a two-day visit, the High Commissioner has met with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to discuss an agreement reached in Dubai this week between Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and UNHCR to pursue a regional strategy aimed at finding durable solutions to the Afghan refugee situation.

The new strategy will be presented at an international conference to be held in Switzerland in early May. This gathering will seek support for programmes inside Afghanistan that will increase the attractiveness and sustainability of returns while providing additional support to communities that host Afghan refugees.

Guterres, speaking to journalists at the end of his visit, also called for additional international solidarity with Pakistan and Iran, which both continue to host large numbers of Afghan refugees after more than 30 years.

"At a time when many countries are closing their doors to those fleeing violence and persecution, the generosity of the people and the government of Pakistan towards Afghan refugees deserves greater recognition and support on the part of the international community," he said.

Last year, just over 50,000 Afghan refugees returned home from Pakistan, down from nearly 110,000 in 2010. Despite the decline, the number of Afghan returns last year represented the largest refugee repatriation programme in the world.

"The priority now," said Guterres, "is to create conditions inside Afghanistan that will allow for large-scale voluntary repatriation." Afghan refugees will be more ready to go home once the right conditions are in place inside Afghanistan, he added.

The High Commissioner also commended the Pakistan government for reaffirming its commitment to the voluntary and gradual return of Afghan refugees.

There are currently some 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Since 2002, more than 5 million Afghan refugees have returned to their country, the majority with assistance from UNHCR.

By Tim Irwin

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UNHCR country pages

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

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

Home Without Land

Land is hot property in mountainous Afghanistan, and the lack of it is a major reason Afghans in exile do not want to return.

Although landless returnees are eligible for the Afghan government's land allocation scheme, demand far outstrips supply. By the end of 2007, the authorities were developing 14 settlements countrywide. Nearly 300,000 returnee families had applied for land, out of which 61,000 had been selected and 3,400 families had actually moved into the settlements.

Desperate returnees sometimes have to camp in open areas or squat in abandoned buildings. Others occupy disputed land where aid agencies are not allowed to build permanent structures such as wells or schools.

One resilient community planted itself in a desert area called Tangi in eastern Afghanistan. With help from the Afghan private sector and the international community, water, homes, mosques and other facilities have sprouted – proof that the right investment and commitment can turn barren land into the good earth.

Posted on 31 January 2008

Home Without Land

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