Afghanistan: Fifty thousand refugees return this year
Each Afghan returning with UNHCR assistance receives a cash grant averaging about $100, depending on the distance to their area of origin. The grant is given out to returning refugees at one of five UNHCR encashment centres in Afghanistan.
Throughout the repatriation operation since 2002, the months of May, June and July have always been the highest repatriation periods as refugee families decide to come back to work on their land after the end of the harsh winter season.
The return operation in Pakistan resumed on 22 March 2010 following the usual winter recess, through the voluntary repatriation centres of Chamkani in Peshawar, and Belali in Balochistan.
Nearly 70 percent of Afghans having returned in the last two months were from the Khyber Pashtun Khwa area (formerly the North West Frontier Province), while 13.7 percent were from in Balochistan. A small number returned from Sindh, Punjab and Islamabad.
Over 35 percent of the total returnee so far this year went home to the country's eastern provinces namely, Nangarhar, Laghman, and Kunar while over 32 percent returned to the central region of Kabul, Logar, Parwan, 16 percent to the northern and north-eastern provinces such as Kunduz, Jawzjan, Balkh and Baghlan. Only seven percent returned to the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.
Over the past two months, returning refugees cited rising living costs, fewer jobs and the difficult security situation in Pakistan as key reasons for deciding to return to Afghanistan. Some Afghans also say they are encouraged by improved opportunities at home.
There are still some 2.7 million registered Afghans in Pakistan and Iran many of whom have lived there for over two decades. Their voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration is subject to many variables including political, economic, and social factors.
Earlier this month, UNHCR and the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to extend the tripartite agreement governing the voluntary repatriation of registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan until 31 December 2012. Under the agreement, the three parties once again reaffirmed their commitment to the voluntary, gradual and dignified return of Afghan refugees.
Afghanistan has absorbed a 5th of its population in returning refugees over the past nine years and many still face shortages of housing, jobs, schools, and medical services as well as security problems.
Now in its ninth year, UNHCR's voluntary return programme to Afghanistan is the largest return operation around the world. Since it began in 2002, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan and 865,000 from Iran with UNHCR's help.