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AFGHANISTAN: Rate of refugee return slows ahead of winter

KABUL, 10 October 2007 (IRIN) - Fewer Afghan refugees are returning home from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan than in the summer when uptake of a temporary repatriation assistance programme was at its peak, especially in Pakistan.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the number of returnees from Pakistan is currently averaging 200 per day, down from a peak of 12,000 per day in April.

The UNHCR return assistance programme, which provides every returnee from Pakistan and Iran with about US$100, will be suspended from 31 October 2007 to 1 March 2008 in Pakistan but continue throughout the winter in Iran, Nader Farhad, a UNHCR spokesman in Kabul, told IRIN.

“During September 16,718 Afghans returned home from Pakistan and Iran with UNHCR assistance, a 16 percent decrease on the month of August and a 25 percent decrease compared to July,” the UNHCR said in a statement on 9 October. A decrease in returns is normal in winter when many roads become impassable.

In the last seven months, the UNHCR has assisted over 347,500 Afghan refugees to return home from neighbouring Pakistan, but over two million Afghans still live as registered refugees in that country.

Since the UNHCR launched its voluntary repatriation of Afghans in 2002, over 3.2 million of them have been assisted to return to their country, according to the UNHCR.

Return from Iran

There are over 900,000 registered Afghans in Iran who can legally stay in the country. Only 5,500 have voluntarily returned home so far this year, UNHCR statistics show.

The numbers of Afghans returning from Iran voluntarily have reduced to an average of 40-50 per day, the UNHCR’s Farhad told IRIN.

A substantial number of Afghans live and work in Iran illegally, but their exact numbers are unknown. The Iranian authorities have deported tens of thousands of them in the last six months and have vowed to expel more.

“We have received a note from Iranian officials that about 20,000 Afghans will be deported from Iran in the very near future,” Sultan Ahmad Baheen, an Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman, told IRIN on 9 October.

Afghan officials and some aid workers say the country faced a humanitarian challenge and the government did not know how to respond when thousands of Afghans were expelled from Iran in April and May this year.

The UN and aid organisations have repeatedly called on Iran to deport illegal Afghans in a humane manner and gradually. Afghanistan’s capacity to absorb and effectively reintegrate its citizens returning from outside is limited, the UNHCR said.



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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