The United Nations refugee agency today began distributing
urgently needed winter supplies to more than 200,000 displaced people in Afghanistan as night-time temperatures have plummeted to below freezing across the Asian country.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners handed out blankets, plastic sheets, warm clothes and fuel to more than 300 families in the Dahsabz district of the Afghan capital, Kabul, on the first day of the distribution.
This joint winter assistance programme is vital for returnees and internally displaced people (IDPs) who are at particular risk during the cold winter months in Afghanistan, " said Jamaher Anwary, the Afghan Minister of Refugees and Repatriation.In total, some 34,500 families, or more than 200,000 individuals, will receive the winter supplies.
Beneficiaries include households that are run by women with no adult male support, families with elderly or disabled members [and] families with many children, " said Peter Nicolaus, the UNHCR Representative in Afghanistan. In other words, really poor or desperately disadvantaged families who are in dire need of our support. "
Ms. Makai, a single mother of six who received blankets, clothes and other warm items, as well as two large sacks of coal and one large sack of flour, said: These gifts mean everything to my young children and me. I am the only one old enough to bring in a bit of money, but my youngest was only born recently and I have not been able to find work because of her. "
In total, some 34,500 families, or more than 200,000 individuals, will receive the winter supplies " blankets, plastic sheets, sweaters, shawls, gloves, socks, waterproof shoes, gas, charcoal and coal " to help them stay warm and dry through the bitter winter. As in previous years, UNHCR is focusing its winter assistance effort on isolated rural areas.
Since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, UNHCR has helped some 4.6 million Afghan refugees to return home voluntarily. Nearly three million registered Afghan refugees still live in exile in Pakistan and Iran.
Lack of jobs, food, shelter and security in parts of the country has made it harder for returnees to remain in their villages, according to UNHCR.
The agency and the Afghan Government are engaged in a consultative process involving neighbouring Iran and Pakistan to develop a strategy to support the refugees. The strategy will be presented to the international community at a conference in April.