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UNHCR: Afghan voluntary repatriation from Iran comes to a halt

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Mashhad, Khorassan Razavi prov., Nov 22, IRNA

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said here Saturday that voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Iran has come a halt.

Guterres told reporters that this year, the project on voluntary repatriation Afghan refugees from host countries has slowed down and in case of Iran it has come to a halt.

He said insecurity is the main cause of a halt to refugees’ repatriation.

“Social, educational, health, housing and job related issues along with security are highly important factors which make the Afghans reluctant to return home,” he added.

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November 24, 2008 at 3:34 am

Posted in Refugees

FEATURE-Pakistan revives Afghan camps for its own people

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By Zeeshan Haider

KACHAGARI, Pakistan, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Pakistan has reopened camps originally set up in the 1980s for Afghans who fled the Soviet occupation to provide shelter for those made homeless by offensives against Islamist militants on its northwest border.

“I never thought I would become a refugee in my own country. Never ever,” Ghulam Ahmed told Reuters at Kachagari camp on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar.

Grey-bearded, illiterate, with no idea of his age, Ahmed said he could only hope it was a bad dream as he sat atop a pile of blankets grabbed from relief workers for his family of eight.

A few years back, authorities began dismantling camps in and around Peshawar in a bid to persuade the Afghans to go home.

Peshawar had been a focal point for Muslim volunteers for the guerrilla war, covertly funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia, to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.

But the refugee camps later served as breeding grounds for Islamist militants who joined the Taliban and other groups to keep the cycle of violence spinning in Afghanistan. But in recent years the conflict zone has spread to Pakistan’s tribal lands.

Kachagari, near the Khyber tribal region, was closed for Afghan refugees last year.

Bulldozers destroyed the mud-walled homes the Afghans had built to replace the original tents.

Today in Kachagari, more than 1,700 tents, each meant for a family of six, have been pitched in the dusty earth among the ruins of the deserted Afghan homes.

The camp was only reopened on Sept. 28 and it now hosts more than 11,000 people, mostly from the Bajaur tribal region where a military offensive began in August to clear out Taliban, al Qaeda and other militant groups.

The military says more than 1,500 militants have been killed while 73 soldiers have also died in fighting in Bajaur since August, though no independent verification of casualties is available.

Unlike past offensives, the military has relied heavily on air power to push back the Islamist guerrillas.

DESTITUTE AND DESPERATE

At the entrance of Kachagari, two hospitals built with Saudi aid for Afghan refugees have been converted to offices for the camp management.

Scores of tribesmen jostled for food, blankets, tents and cooking oil supplied by U.N. and other aid agencies.

“I had my own grocery shop in Bajaur. I had some agricultural land. I was not that poor,” Ahmed said.

Security guards brandished batons to restore order among the desperate men.

Nearby, dirty-faced children, some without any trousers, played in the dust, oblivious of what was happening around.

“This is now our fate. It happens here daily,” said 25-year-old Aslam Khan, as he watched the miserable scene.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, is providing non-food items such as tents, blankets, sleeping mattresses and kitchen kits. It also provided funds for levelling the ground to set up the camp.

UNICEF has set up latrines, provided drinking water, and opened makeshift schools.

Kilian Kleinschmidt, Assistant Representative of the UNHCR, said U.N. aid agencies launched an appeal for $54 million under their Humanitarian Response Plan in September to help these displaced people.

He said only around half the amount had been received.

However, he said, they planned to revise the appeal in view of the growing numbers of people fleeing the conflict zones.

Klienschmidt said nearly 35,000 displaced people had been registered in two camps in Kachagari and seven other camps elsewhere in the northwest.

“By mid-December, we expect up to 70,000 people will be in these camps,” he added.

Jalozai, one of the oldest camps east of Peshawar, was closed this year. It will be reopened on Tuesday, Klienschmidt said.

WIDENING CONFLICT ZONE

Besides Bajaur, security forces are battling militants in nearby Swat Valley.

Pakistani officials anticipate that a crackdown will be launched next in Mohmand tribal region neighbouring Bajaur.

Social scientists say the longer people stay in these camps, the greater the risk becomes that jobless young men will turn to crime and militancy.

“Many of these people are poor. The first and foremost thing for them is to survive and because of this they are more prone to get into militancy,” said Johar Ali, a professor of sociology at the University of Peshawar.

One American aid worker and his driver were gunned down and an Iranian diplomat was kidnapped and his guard was killed in Peshawar this month. Afghanistan’s ambassador-designate was kidnapped from the city in September.

Kleinschmidt said security in these camps was a major concern for aid agencies.

“We need to ensure that the camps remain safe and the people there understand that it’s not acceptable that … they involve in any (other) activities.” (Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Bill Tarrant)

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November 24, 2008 at 3:33 am

Posted in Refugees

AFGHANISTAN: Little help for civilians repeatedly displaced by conflict

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28 Oct 2008
 
LASHKARGAH, 28 October 2008 (IRIN) – Fighting between Taliban insurgents and Afghan government and international forces in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, has displaced Abdul Hadi’s family four times in less than two years but he has received no help.
 
“Two years ago we abandoned our home in Nawzad District because of the war and moved to Garmsir [District]. This summer the conflict broke out in Garmsir and we sought refugee in Marja [District]. The war followed us into Marja and we moved to Bodam desert and from there we came to Lashkargah,” Hadi told IRIN.
 
Hundreds, if not thousands, of families in volatile areas have experienced similar hardship over the past three years. At the same time the access of aid agencies has been restricted by insecurity.
 
“Those who have had to flee violence, intimidation and conflict across Afghanistan, and who are estimated to number in the tens of thousands, have not been properly profiled in terms of determining who they are, where they are from, and what their immediate protection and assistance needs are,” Ingrid Macdonald, protection and advocacy manager of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Kabul, told IRIN.
 
New report
 
Currently there are about 235,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) officially recognised by a joint task group of aid agencies and the government. But this figure does not include people displaced by conflict since 2006, according to a 28 October report by the NRC’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).
 
Over one million people were internally displaced in 2002. Most of these have returned to their homes but 185,000 still live in camps in the south, west and southwest of the country, the report said.
 
The predominant understanding is that conflict displaces people for a short while and once a military operation is over, civilians return to their homes and resume a normal life, and thus there is no need for relief and protection services.
 
However, many displaced families and the IDMC report say the opposite.
 
“These internally displaced persons are believed to have urgent humanitarian and protection needs,” said the report.
 
Abdul Hadi said repeated displacements had made his family destitute: “We have lost everything… we need everything – food, medicine, shelter, water, clothes and even matches to light a candle,” he said.
 
Avoiding “pull factors”
 
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) ended its assistance to IDPs in the three main camps in Kandahar, Helmand and Herat provinces in March 2006, while aid to people displaced by conflict and disasters since 2007 has been delivered on an ad hoc basis.
 
The NRC said it was very concerned about the lack of attention being paid to IDP needs. The reluctance to assist IDPs has been driven by a desire to avoid “pull factors” that could encourage further displacement which, in turn, could create “an entrenched humanitarian crisis”, NRC aid workers said.
 
The NRC supports the prevention of “pull factors”, but says the critical needs of most IDPs must be addressed.
 
Coordinated strategy needed
 
The spread of the conflict into previously secure areas, natural disasters, food-insecurity and the deportation of Afghans from neighbouring countries are exacerbating the IDP situation.
 
The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that hundreds of thousands of people could be internally displaced in northern areas largely due to food-insecurity.
 
“Given that displacement is occurring and in potentially such high numbers, Afghanistan urgently requires a coordinated response strategy – and plan between the Afghan authorities and international community – for meeting the immediate assistance and protection needs of conflict-affected IDPs,” the NRC’s Ingrid Macdonald told IRIN.
 
The NRC also suggests a re-profiling of IDPs to identify their needs and thus aid response planning.
© IRIN. All rights reserved
 

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November 1, 2008 at 3:46 am

Posted in Refugees

Franco-British charter flights to deport Afghan refugees

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October 30, 2008
WATCHING THE CORPORATIONS

 
Thousands of Afghan refugees who have been denied asylum in France and the UK could be forcibly deported to the war-devastated country on joint charter flights if a proposed agreement between France and Afghanistan goes ahead. Gérard Gavory, deputy head of the regional government of Calais, France, recently hinted that the deportations could be imminent as a result of “international negotiations.” He also said French authorities have been “working effectively with Britain to set up joint [deportation charter] flights.”
 
On 21 October, 2008, 25 Afghani refugees, who had been held in detention for 15 days, were brought before the Coquelles court. A second court hearing, with further 20 Afghan claimants, took place on 22 October. French officials say if the Afghan authorities recognise them as Afghan nationals, they can be sent back to Afghanistan. No diplomatic agreement had been possible with Afghanistan so far as the latter does not recognise ‘clandestines’, or those without papers.
 
Although the Afghan detainees have been released since, the recent court hearings are clearly linked to a new Franco-Afghan accord, of which little is known so far. The new attitude of the Afghan government would also provide the French authorities with an ‘opportunity’ to resolve the ‘impossible’ situation in the port of Calais, north France, where thousands of people who have been denied asylum sleep rough as they search for ways to smuggle themselves onto lorries heading to the UK.
 
Last week, French riot police began a mass operation in Calais to ‘clear up illegal camps’ used by refugees waiting to find a way into Britain. Hundreds of armed officers dismantled the make-shift homes of about 350 of the 1,000 or so stuck in Calais.
 
John O from the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) said: “Everyone is aware that foreign intervention in Afghanistan sent the country down the toilet years ago. All the foreign armies that are in Afghanistan at the moment are on record that they cannot ‘bring order’ to Afghanistan. The Afghan government itself, whose writ only runs in the capital Kabul, says it cannot bring order. Yet, the French and British governments say Afghanistan is ‘safe’. They are either out of touch with reality or unbelievably hypocritical.”
 
Afghanistan continues to be listed, by Crisis Watch for example, among the top “continuing conflicts that create refugees.” According to Home Office statistics, Afghans are among the top nationalities in terms of the number of asylum applicants. In the first quarter of 2008, Afghan nationals accounted for the highest number of applications: 830 out of 6,595, 10% higher than for the same period in 2007. In total, there were 2,570 asylum applicants from Afghanistan in 2007, the highest number from any country. However, Afghan nationals also continue to be the top nationality in the UK subject to forced removals. In the first three months of this year, 270 Afghans were deported out of a total of 3,025 (including dependants). Humanitarian agency the Edmund Rice Centre has recently produced documentary evidence that nine Afghan refugees returned from Australia were killed by Taliban forces, and further 11 are estimated to have also died.
 
Using commercial flights to deport those who have been denied asylum is becoming increasingly embarrassing, and costly, for the government and the airline companies involved due to successful campaigns and protests. To sustain the deportation regime, the UK government is now resorting more frequently to ‘ethnic charter flights’. According to data obtained by NCADC under the Freedom of Information Act, there were 91 charter flights from the UK in the 16 months between February 2006 and May 2007. Of these, 18 flights were to Afghanistan, removing a total of 415 people. The code name given by the immigration authorities to charter flights deporting people to Afghanistan is ‘Operation Ravel’. On 11th March, 2008, flight PVT008, operated by Hamburg International Airlines, carried a number of Afghan asylum seekers to Baku, Azerbaijan, for onward transit to Kabul. Some of those deported are known to have been detained in Tinsley House immigration prison at Gatwick airport.
 
The UK stopped deporting Afghan refugees in 1995 as the country was then regarded “unstable”. Failed Afghan asylum seekers were granted Exceptional Leave to Remain in the UK. But the rules of the game changed after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. A so-called Voluntary Assisted Return programme was introduced for Afghan refugees in 2003, operated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an inter-governmental agency set up during the Cold War to monitor and manage global migration trends. Single claimants were then offered a £600 inducement (up to £2,500 for families) to leave the country and go back to Afghanistan.
 
Now it seems both ‘voluntary’ returns and individual forced removals are deemed to be draining the nation’s tax payers – unlike city investment firms and banks. As a remedy, European governments are resorting to joint charter flights, where a plane operated by a contracted charter airline stops at various European cities to pick up deportees and fly them to their possible deaths.
 
Undertaking deportation charter flights poses a reputational risk for some commercial airlines. Last year, XL Airways withdrew from a £1.5m contract with the Home Office following a number of protests highlighting the airline’s involvement in forced deportations to DR Congo. Other airlines that are known to operate deportation charter flights from the UK include Hamburg International, Channel Express and Air Partners.
 
In June 2005, the interior ministers of the five largest European countries (Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Britain) announced they would be organising “joint charter flights” to increase the number of deportations from their countries, thereby disregarding international and human rights conventions. The first destination was then set to be Afghanistan. Soon after, there was a sharp increase in the number of Afghan refugees arrested and placed in detention centres on both sides of the Channel. A joint French-British deportation charter flight to Kabul took off from Paris in July that year. The following week, another joint flight left from London, stopped in Paris and landed in Kabul, carrying at least 60 young Afghans who had been denied asylum in the UK and France.
 
Although a number of joint flights had been organised on a bilateral basis, it was the French government who took the lead in July 2002 in “rationalising expulsion measures”, in particular by means of “group returns”. France opened talks with Germany and the UK on the possibility of “joint European charters”. There followed the Afghanistan Return Programme agreed in 2003, which covered both ‘voluntary’ and forced removals. In another proposal to the European Council, Italy sought to formalise joint EU flights by covering all countries of origin or the last safe third country passed through on a global basis. This would allow, it was said, “group removals” by EU governments to be conducted “as efficiently as possible by sharing removal capacities for rational repatriation operations.”
 
Campaigners argue that such joint flights amount to collective expulsion, which is prohibited under Protocol 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
 

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November 1, 2008 at 3:44 am

Posted in Refugees

AFGHANISTAN: REMEMBERING AFGHAN REFUGEES

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Friday, September 12, 2008            
EURASIA INSIGHT        
      
M. Ashraf Haidari 9/11/08        

As Americans reflect on the tragic events of seven years ago, they should also recall that the September 11 terrorist attacks caused the international spotlight to refocus on Afghanistan. The US-led invasion in late 2001 succeeded in driving the Taliban from power, and paved the way for a humanitarian success story. Of late, however, the international commitment to Afghanistan seems to have lost traction. One way that Americans can honor the September 11 victims is by keeping Afghan reconstruction efforts on course, and doing their part to ensure that millions of Afghan refugees feel secure enough to return home.        

Over the course of the past three decades, Afghan refugees have never hesitated to return home as soon as promising conditions have given them hope for restoration of peace and justice in their homeland. In 1992 and 1993, for example, following the fall of the Afghan communist regime, more than 2 million Afghan refugees voluntarily repatriated from Pakistan and Iran. But their return ground to a halt, shortly after the breakout of the civil war that plunged Afghanistan into anarchy and chaos.        

Buoyed by international re-engagement in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, more than 5 million Afghan refugees returned home from Pakistan and Iran during the early 2000s, making the largest voluntary repatriation in the history of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).        

But there still are over 3 million Afghan in Pakistan, and over 1 million in Iran, and these remaining refugees are now reluctant to return home. Deteriorating security, widespread poverty and unemployment, and a severe lack of social facilities such as access to education and healthcare constitute major obstacles to voluntary repatriation of most Afghan refugees. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In many areas, especially in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban has once again emerged as a force to be reckoned with. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].        

When a UN reporter in June asked one Afghan refugee, Hazrat Shah, if he planned to repatriate, the carpet weaver now living in Pakistan replied; “There is no place in the world like home. But where would you go if your house were ablaze?” He added gloomily, “Today two new graves have been dug for two brothers who were killed in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan.” The two youngsters–not related to Hazrat Shah–had returned home to Gereshk in Helmand province the week before to find jobs and gradually to pave the way for the repatriation of their entire family from Pakistan.        

The government and people of Afghanistan appreciate the humanitarian assistance Pakistan and Iran have provided to Afghan refugees over the past three decades. But pull factors such as improved security, enhanced protection and reintegration assistance, and increased employment opportunities in Afghanistan should determine push factors in host states.        

Pakistan and Iran must honor the principle of non-refoulement, rooted both in international and Islamic law, to refrain from forcible deportation of Afghan refugees. The Afghan government maintains separate trilateral agreements with Pakistan, Iran, and UNHCR–a key provision of which is to facilitate voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from the two countries only if the conditions inside Afghanistan allow. Although host states have an interest in encouraging refugees to go back home, UNHCR is mandated to prevent and protect refugees from repatriating prematurely if the prevailing conditions at home are not ready for their return. Except for spontaneous returns during 2002-2003, Afghan refugees must have been warned about increasing instability and a severe lack of reintegration assistance in Afghanistan in the following years.        

Contrarily, however, Afghan refugees have been encouraged to return home, as repatriation–voluntary or otherwise–has been viewed as a positive sign of stabilization and reconstruction progress in Afghanistan. Consequently, the fact that most returnees have ended up becoming internally displaced due to conflicts and an expanding drought should be cause for serious concern to UNHCR and the international community. It should also be a signal to halt further premature repatriation of Afghan refugees until the conditions in Afghanistan have improved enough for their safe return home.        

At the same time, the international community must honor the principle of burden sharing and provide relief assistance to states hosting large numbers of refugees. Assistance to Pakistan and Iran should aim at empowering Afghan refugees so that they will gain skills necessary both to contribute to their host societies and later to use those skills to earn an income upon return home.        

Additionally, developed countries must expand their resettlement programs, taking in more Afghan refugees from Iran and Pakistan on an annual basis. Resettlement of Afghan refugees in the developed countries will go a long way in helping rebuild and develop Afghanistan. Resilience and high achievement motivation that characterize most refugees will quickly enable resettled Afghan families to adapt into their new societies, taking advantage of social and economic opportunities there to establish themselves and to continue supporting their relatives at home, as well as in Pakistan and Iran.        

In the long run, most resettled Afghans will have gained wealth and higher education which they would certainly use to invest in Afghanistan, as we know from the return of many wealthy Afghans and technocrats who have made significant contributions to Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2002.        

In pondering resettlement programs, one myth must be confronted head-on: Contrary to frequent allegations that Afghan refugees are a burden on their host countries’ economies, the opposite is most often true. The millions of refugees in Pakistan and Iran are assets to those countries’ economies. Many Afghans in both states fill a glaring need in the labor sector, working casual jobs at wages much lower than that paid to locals who may not even be willing to accept such jobs because of social taboos associated with casual labor. Other Afghan refugees use their special skills–such as carpet weaving–to produce quality Afghan rugs, which local firms purchase below market price, brand them made in the host country, and then sell them in developed countries with manifold profit. Most importantly, a significant number of Afghan refugees have found success as entrepreneurs and have risen to operate midsize and even corporate-level businesses in Pakistan, Iran, and the Gulf states,        
 making notable contributions to those countries’ economic growth.        

Other allegations that terrorists recruit from Afghan refugee camps are utterly baseless and a political excuse on Pakistan’s part not to cooperate sincerely in the war against terrorism. Afghan refugees are actually victims of violence and terrorism, but abusing their status as a scapegoat is clearly a violation of their rights under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Countries that are party to the Geneva Convention and other international human rights regimes are obligated to respect refugee rights as human rights and safeguard them by providing refugees with protection from violence, persecution, and human insecurity that collectively make it impossible for most refugees to return home voluntarily.        

Almost 2,500 years ago, Euripides wrote that “there is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land.” Indeed, for most Afghan refugees, like Hazrat Shah, no foreign land can ever replace their homeland where they will return as soon as they feel secure to do so. It is obvious that the real durable solution to the Afghan refugees’ problem is voluntary repatriation, which can only be guaranteed by security in Afghanistan. Hence, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan’s other neighbors can and must cooperate with the international community to stabilize Afghanistan first.        

Durable stability and prosperity in the country would automatically attract Afghan refugees to voluntarily return home. At the same time, the international community must honor the commitments they recently made at the Paris Support Conference to provide the Afghan government with long-term resources to implement the objectives of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy–a key priority of which is to help reintegrate returning refugees and internally displaced persons into their communities.        

Editor’s Note: A former refugee, internally displaced person, and UNHCR field officer, M. Ashraf Haidari is the political counselor of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC. His e-mail is haidari@embassyofafghanistan.org        
Posted September 11, 2008 © Eurasianet       

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September 13, 2008 at 3:15 am

Posted in Refugees

Pakistan wants repatriation of Afghan refugees expedited

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By Sher Baz Khan
Dawn (Pakistan)
September 1, 2008 issue

ISLAMABAD, Aug 31: Pakistan has expressed concern over the slow pace of repatriation of Afghan refugees since 2006 and asked the international community and the Afghan government to do more to ensure early and honourable return of the refugees.

A joint statement issued at the end of a meeting of the tripartite commission here on Sunday said that Pakistan expected that an international conference on refugees’ return and reintegration to be held in November in Kabul should be seen as an opportunity to mobilise support for speedy return of the Afghans.

The commission noted that the Jalozai camp in the NWFP was closed officially on June 30 but there had been no progress with respect to the Girdi Jungle and Jungle Pir Alizai camps in Balochistan.

A source in the ministry of states and frontier regions said the government had told Afghan officials and the UN refugee agency that it was becoming impossible for Pakistan to continue to host the refugees because Afghan nationals had been found involved in recent acts of terrorism in the country.

According to the statement, all the parties agreed to draw lessons from the slow repatriation of the refugees this year and incorporate recommendations in this regard in next year�s repatriation plan.

Pakistan is of the view that any mid-term plan for repatriation would go well beyond 2009. The three-year plan (2007-9) had not succeeded because of inability of the authorities concerned to make arrangements for an honourable return of the refugees.

Pakistan told the commission that “ground realities” should be taken into account while formulating any mid-term strategy.

An official told Dawn that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in coordination with other UN agencies, would launch a pilot programme at a cost of $135 million for rehabilitating areas affected by the refugees and community development in the NWFP and Balochistan.

Almost 30 years after Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan, Pakistan still has more than two million registered refugees and Iran more than 900,000.

It was decided that four camps in Pakistan housing 230,000 refugees would be closed by 2009 but it appears that it would take more time to make the Afghans return home.

Experts fear that closing the camps and deporting undocumented refugees might create regional problems and there could be resistance because the situation in Afghanistan was not ideal for their return.

According to a UNHCR report issued in May, 82 per cent of the refugees in Pakistan do not want to go home. About three fourths of them are below the age of 28 and nearly as many have no formal education — a combination that could make them susceptible to extremism.

The UNHCR has repatriated 3.3 million Afghans since 2002, including 120,000 from Pakistan in 2008, but some two million remain in the country. The number of unregistered refugees is unknown. The largest number of refugees is in the NWFP. As the bigger camps in the province have been shut down, some refugees have shifted to camps in Punjab.

There is also a small population of refugees in Balochistan from where only 5,000 have returned this year.

The statement highlighted the importance of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy as the principle framework for return and reintegration planning.

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September 3, 2008 at 3:03 am

Posted in Refugees

Returnees bemoan government’s “empty promises”

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BARIKAB, 14 August 2008 (IRIN) – Gul Haider’s small family migrated to Pakistan from Afghanistan’s Parwan Province in the 1980s but returned to their homeland in 2006 as almost two dozen people. Now in Afghanistan, shelter is their main problem.

Gul Haider was nine when the war against the Soviets forced his father, mother and two brothers to seek refuge in neighbouring Pakistan. “Now I have five children,” Haider told IRIN near his mud-hut in the Barikab returnees’ township, about 60km north of Kabul.

Their old house in the Gorband District of Parwan was seized by local militias after they emigrated and is now owned by a powerful commander who says he bought it “legitimately”.

“We were encouraged to repatriate and were told that the [Afghan] government would give us a house, work and other facilities,” Haider said mournfully. “But those were only empty promises,” he said.

The Ministry of Refugees and Returnees (MoRR) has allotted land plots to up to 7,000 landless returnees in the Barikab settlement, but so far less than 600 families have agreed to move there.

The Barikab community is in the middle of a vast arid desert and lacks markets, schools, hospitals, transport and electricity.

Families leaving

Dozens of families that had moved to the Barikab township have already left due to poor living conditions and lack of job opportunities, locals said.

“We don’t have a school here… there is no hospital, no electricity, no transport, no work,” said Humayon Khan, a delegate of the Barikab residents. “It’s just a desert.”

“Our children were going to school in Pakistan but there is no school here,” said Abdul Manan, a father of five.

“I don’t think people will continue to live here because of all the problems we are facing,” said Humayon Khan.

The MoRR and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) acknowledged the difficulties returnees are facing in the Barikab community, but said they alone could not reverse the situation.

“The UNHCR alone cannot provide for the site,” said Ahmad Nadir Farhad, a UNHCR spokesman in Kabul.

“It’s not a job only for the MoRR… various other government and non-government bodies must take part in the efforts to help returnees reintegrate effectively,” Abdul Qader Zazi, a senior adviser to the MoRR, said.

“False dream”

Over five million Afghan refugees have repatriated mostly from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran over the past six years, according to the UNHCR, but some do not have land or housing.

To support the reintegration of landless and vulnerable returnees the Afghan government launched a land distribution scheme in 2003, which has given land to some 100,000 families, the MoRR said.

However, only 6,000 households have moved into the designated areas due to lack of basic services and poor livelihood opportunities.

The outgoing UNHCR representative in Kabul, Salvatore Lombardo, said: “The dream that you are going to give a piece of land to everyone who comes back was false and… should not have been shared because that dream does not exist”.

“Often returnees are allotted land 50km from urban areas in flood plains where returnees have no means of livelihood,” the UNHCR’s Farhad said.

His concerns were echoed by Zazi of the MoRR: “Many people are waiting to see hospitals, roads, schools, electricity and other facilities in those areas and then move there”.

The government’s refugee reintegration programme has increasingly come in for criticism recently. Zazi of the MoRR conceded that the reintegration programme had been mired in operational confusion; there was only notional commitment to it, and it lacked resources.

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August 15, 2008 at 5:00 am

Posted in Refugees