UNHCR: Decades assisting refugees in Afghanistan

20 Jun 2009

UNHCR: Decades assisting refugees in Afghanistan

KABUL - For decades Afghans made up the world’s largest refugee population with up to eight million living outside Afghanistan.

Since 2002 more than 4.36 million have come back to Afghanistan with the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Such a voluntary repatriation programme represents the single largest repatriation operation in UNHCR’s 59-year history and as a result Afghanistan is the world’s largest returnee-receiving country.

Afghans have been returning from Iran and Pakistan since the fall of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001.

More than 3.5 million have returned from Pakistan alone in the last seven years and since the start of 2009 more than 35,000 Afghan refugees have returned from there.

15,300 Afghans have repatriated from other countries in Central Asia since 2002.

"In December this year it will be 30 years since the start of the Afghan refugee crisis. It is among the most complex and protracted of all refugee situations except the Palestinian refugees. We all have witnessed the exceptional resilience of Afghan refugees - ordinary men and women, girls and boys in extraordinary circumstances - struggling against the kind of adversity few of us can imagine," said Nader Farhad, UNHCR's Spokesperson in Kabul.

For the most part Afghans are returning to their provinces of origin or in search of work and a better life.

More than 1,157,000 have returned to Kabul and more than 859,000 have returned to the eastern province of Nangarhar.

With the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan there is continuing concern for Internally Displaced Persons or IDPs in the country.

UNHCR estimates there are some 235,000 people displaced in Afghanistan mostly due to conflict, drought and poverty.

As a result UNHCR assists the Government of Afghanistan to provide assistance to vulnerable people throughout the country.

In 2009 alone UNHCR plans to build an estimated 10,000 housing units for returnee families and since 2002 the agency has supported the construction of 181,000 shelters.

The budget for UNHCR’s regional repatriation programme is more than US$ 89 million, including more than US$ 54 million for Afghanistan, US$20.5 million for Pakistan and US$ 14 million for Iran.

"June 20 is World Refugee Day, a good time to remember the 42 million including some 2.8 million Afghans uprooted around the world who are still waiting to go home. We take time to recognize the unmet needs of refugees worldwide and to remember that at this moment around the world, millions of people are struggling to meet their and their families’ most basic needs. Our goal is to ensure the needs of refugees and returnees are not forgotten or put to the bottom of the list of priorities. Refugees are not just faceless statistics; refugees are individuals with real needs, just like you and me," added UNHCR's Nader Farhad.

By Dominic Medley, UNAMA

Website: UNHCR