SLUG: 2-292847 UNHCR / Afghan Refugees (L)
TITLE=U-N-H-C-R / AFGHAN REFUGEES (L ONLY)
INTRO: The United Nations refugee agency says the number of Afghan refugees returning home from Pakistan has been steadily declining in recent weeks. Lisa Schlein in Geneva reports the agency cites the security situation in Afghanistan as one possible reason for the slowdown in refugee returns.
TEXT: The U-N refugee agency reports more than 300-thousand Afghans returned home from Pakistan in July. While this is still a significant number, it is a sharp reduction -- about 25 percent -- from the number who returned in May..
/// OPT /// About one-point-three-million Afghan refugees have gone home from Pakistan this year. More than 100-thousand others have returned from Iran. /// END OPT ///
U-N-H-C-R spokesman Peter Kessler says it is not surprising to see a slowdown in the pace of returns. He says reports of tension in Afghanistan and the decrease in food assistance to returning refugees might be partly responsible for the declining numbers.
/// KESSLER ACT 1 ///
The situation in Afghanistan is still in the early days. There is some tension in some corners of the country. The transitional authority is expanding its influence. The refugees may be watching that. They may begin to decide to wait to go back, maybe next year perhaps, and we are asking, of course, countries in the region and states further afield not to push Afghan refugees home if they feel comfortable to stay where they are.
/// END ACT ///
Mr. Kessler says the refugee agency expects that the number of returnees, particularly from Pakistan, probably will continue to decline over the coming months. Nevertheless, he says it is important for the international community to maintain its support for Afghanistan.
/// KESSLER ACT 2 ///
What is most important is that the donor community firmly support the development agencies, that work projects, that development projects start up as quickly as possible. These more than one-point-four million Afghans that have gone back from Pakistan and Iran have to go back to jobs. They have to go back to health care, a future education for their boys and girls. And, that is for the longer-term agencies to come in and start up projects so that people have employment and that Afghanistan itself has a future.
/// END ACT ///
U-N-H-C-R spokesman Kessler says there must be reasons for Afghan returnees to want to stay at home. Otherwise, he says they may leave again. (Signed)
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