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 FIFTH YEAR OF AFGHAN REPATRIATION MARKED BY SLOWDOWN

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Organisation : Solidarité Irak
Registration date : 2006-08-20

PostSubject: FIFTH YEAR OF AFGHAN REPATRIATION MARKED BY SLOWDOWN   Fri Sep 29, 2006 1:14 pm

ISLAMABAD, 28 September (IRIN) - The last operational year of the UN assisted repatriation programme for Afghan refugees living in Pakistan is approaching its end with a significantly slower pace of returnees.

At the end of this year's peak season in September, only 130,000 Afghans will have returned, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The agency expected some 400,000 Afghans would return home in 2006, as estimated at the start of the year.

"The pace of returns hasn't been very high anyway [since the start of the year]. The repatriation programme is in its fifth year and [the pace of return] is naturally declining. There's no way we could've sustained the high numbers of the last few years. Many Afghans who wanted to return have already done so. Those who remain may have serious obstacles to return," Vivian Tan, a UNHCR spokeswoman said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad on Thursday.

The repatriation programme has witnessed a high turnover in previous years. More than 2.7 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan since the programme was first launched by UNHCR in 2002 following the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The UN refugee agency assisted some 1.6 million Afghan refugees to repatriate to their homeland in 2002, followed by around 340,000 in 2003, more than 380,000 in 2004 and about 450,000 in 2005.

But despite those numbers, the country still hosts some 2.5 million Afghans as counted in a census conducted in March 2005.

"Growing insecurity, lower wages, high living costs and a shortage of housing units are some general reasons for the slowdown of returns," Rajab Ali Ahmadyar, a 49-year-old Afghan teacher, told IRIN in Islamabad.

"The most likely destination of Kabul city has reached a returnee saturation point. There are no jobs, no work to do, and no easy access to social services, no more houses and no infrastructure. Life is very hard there," complained Ahmadyar, who has lived in Islamabad for the last 14 years.

"An ordinary Afghan [in Afghanistan] hardly earns $50 a month, which is such a meagre amount to sustain a family's living," he added.

However, life for Afghan refugees in Pakistan is far from easy.

"All of the adult family members [in an average Afghan family] have to work to sustain Islamabad's high living costs. Some people rely on remittances sent by their relatives living abroad," explained Latifa Aziz, a middle-aged Afghan woman who runs a private Afghan school in the capital.

"At the end of the day, though, as refugees we have a quite satisfactory life compared to that in Afghanistan. Here we can educate our children, have access to social services and good societal relations," Aziz added.

After last year's census, Afghans in Pakistan have also been looking forward to the upcoming countrywide registration starting from 15 October, which will provide them with refugee ID cards valid for three years.

The Afghan repatriation assistance programme of the UNHCR is in its last operational quarter now, under the existing tripartite agreement between Islamabad, Kabul and UNHCR that expires at the end of December.

Under the programme, Afghan returnees are eligible for transport assistance ranging from US $4 to $37 per person, depending on the distance to their destination, as well as a small monetary grant to help them with additional costs.



http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/c0185abd2756fce55b8aa22c0d456a1e.htm
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