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Afghanistan hopes for gradual return of refugees

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By Augustine Anthony
Thursday, August 2 12:22 pm

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Afghanistan hopes neighbouring Pakistan and Iran will show patience in repatriating millions of Afghan refugees, an Afghan minister said on Thursday, as the war-torn country struggles to absorb a large number of returnees.

More than 4.6 million Afghans have gone home from Pakistan and Iran since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, but the U.N. says it will take a long time for Afghanistan to overcome the ravages of decades of war and sustain the flow of refugees.

“Pakistan and Iran are hosting millions of Afghan refugees for three decades, so we hope that they show their patience,” Afghan Minister for Refugees, Mohammad Akbar Akbar, told Reuters in Islamabad.

“Also… the repatriation should be gradual and voluntary,” he said while speaking through an interpreter.

Akbar was in Pakistan’s capital on Thursday to sign a tripartite agreement with Pakistan and the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, to extend for three years the programme of voluntary returns for Afghan refugees.

More than three million Afghans have returned from Pakistan since the programme began in 2002, but there about three million more still remain, including about 2.05 million registered with the Pakistani government.

Akbar said it was his country’s responsibility to take care of those who returned but there were “problems and difficulties” that his country faced.

He did not specify these, but violence has surged in Afghanistan in recent months after the traditional winter lull, following last year’s worst violence since the Taliban overthrow in 2001. More than 6,500 have been killed in the past 18 months.

The UNHCR, which is running a voluntary repatriation programme, said the tripartite agreement showed both Pakistan and Afghanistan understood the need of voluntary and gradual return of the refugees back home.

“After decades of war and neglect, infrastructure has gone down and there is a very little chance for people to make a livelihood,” said Judy Cheng-Hopkins, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, who signed the agreement for her agency.

Hopkins said she was glad to note there had not been any forced repatriation since the deportation Iran began in April of more than 100,000 Afghan refugees. There are an estimated 2 million refugees still in Iran. She said there were no reports of forced repatriation from Pakistan, which last month shut one of four camps it had announced plans to close and which it said had become fertile recruiting grounds for Afghan Taliban insurgents.

Pakistan hopes to close the remaining three camps, which have a total Afghan population of over 150,000, by the end-2007.

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Written by afghandevnews

August 2, 2007 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Refugees

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