August 1st, 2007 06:23 EST
Intensive work needed to reintegrate returning Afghan refugees, UN agency warns
The international donor and humanitarian community must work even more intensively to ensure that Afghan refugees returning home are able to resume a normal life, with the lack of land, shelter and jobs posing a very long-term challenge for which there are no quick fixes, the United Nations refugee agency has warned.
Since 2002, some 5 million Afghan refugees have returned to their battle-scarred homeland, mostly from Pakistan and Iran, a majority aided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). There are currently 3 million registered Afghans left in neighbouring countries, most of whom have been abroad for more than two decades.
“The return of millions of Afghans to their homes and communities has been one of the major success stories of Afghanistan's recovery,” UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Judy Cheng-Hopkins said yesterday at the end of a three-day visit to see first hand the challenges faced by refugees returning to Afghanistan.
“Repatriation will certainly continue but we will have to work even more intensively with the Government of Afghanistan, the donor community, and our implementing partners if we are to make return and reintegration sustainable for those who choose to return home in future,” she added.
She noted that the deteriorating security situation in part of the country and difficult economic conditions underlined how important it will be to continue to maintain a gradual and voluntary approach to repatriation.
“The primary responsibility lies with the government of Afghanistan. But UNHCR will look closely at how we and our partners will need to work from now on to meet the reintegration needs of the long staying population,” she declared.
Ms. Cheng-Hopkins left Afghanistan yesterday for Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, to extend the Tripartite Agreement governing the voluntary repatriation of refugees from Pakistan. The agreement, first signed in 2003, is a joint programme between the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan and UNHCR to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of registered Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.
From Pakistan, she goes to Iran, where there are currently just over 900,000 registered Afghan refugees. The main purpose of her mission to Afghnaistan, where she met with senior Government officials, was to review UNHCR's activities in the country, one of the agency’s most important operations in the world alongside Iraq and Sudan.
She visited one of the busiest returnee centres, close to Kabul, the capital, where she met with families as they received a UNHCR cash grant for transport and reintegration expenses and prepared to travel onwards to resettle in their places of origin. She then went to Parwan province to see a land allocation site.