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Afghan returns pass 50,000 in first eight months, up on last year

News Stories, 30 August 2012

© UNHCR/N.Farhad
Afghan refugees wait by the buses that will take them back home.

KABUL, Afghanistan, August 28 (UNHCR) More than 50,000 Afghan refugees have returned from exile in Pakistan and Iran so far this year, up more than 10 per cent on the first eight months of last year.

From January-August, UNHCR helped an average of 213 refugees repatriate every day compared to 190 a year earlier, when 45,000 returned in the first eight months. Of the 50,000 returnees this year, some 40,000 came from Pakistan and just over 10,000 from Iran.

About a third of the returning refugees went to the eastern provinces of Kabul and Nangarhar, with about 11 per cent heading to Kunduz province in the north. The other most popular destinations were Herat, Baghlan, Kunar, Kandahar, Paktya, Balkh, Logar and Laghman provinces.

More than 5.7 million people have returned to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, including some 4.6 million with UNHCR help. The return movement continues but more than 3 million people remain in exile, mostly in Pakistan and Iran. Many fled more than 20 years ago during the Soviet occupation, but large numbers were born in exile.

Many of those returning from Pakistan this year cited the high cost of living, especially food and fuel, increased competition for jobs and escalating security concerns in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The level of return from Iran, where 1 million Afghan refugees still live, remains stable.

UNHCR's representative in Afghanistan, Peter Nicolaus, praised the two neighbouring countries for hosting large numbers of refugees, while calling for "continued support [to Pakistan and Iran] from the international community to meet the demands of hosting such large numbers."

Whilst most of the returnees have gone to their places of origin, some have been unable to return to their home towns and villages for a variety of reasons, including lack of available land or shelter, few employment opportunities, food shortages and soaring prices.

UNHCR helps each returnee with a cash grant of about US$150 to cover transportation and other expenses. The most vulnerable receive additional support according to their needs.

"While the humanitarian needs of returning refugees remain extensive, investments in long-term development programmes are required to enable sustainable return and reintegration and to improve Afghanistan's present limited capacity to effectively absorb future return," Nicolaus stressed.

This is the objective of a "solutions strategy" developed earlier this year by UNHCR and the governments of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Key aims are to boost job opportunities and provide access to basic social services.

By Nader Farhad in Kabul, Afghanistan

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Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

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

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

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

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.