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ISLAMABAD, 12 May (IRIN) - In a bid to entice Afghan refugees in Pakistan back home, Kabul has announced it is building homes in six or seven Afghan provinces for about 48 thousand families in 2005, the Afghan refugee and repatriation minister said on Wednesday in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
"We have also a plan to distribute lands to at least a hundred thousand families. Distribution of land does not mean to solely give lands to the people, but we'll also work on the other needed elements such as schools, clinics, roads, providing jobs and much more," Dr Muhammad Azam Dadfar, Afghan minister for Repatriation and Refugees (RAR), said as he addressed a gathering of Afghans in Islamabad.
Dadfar is in Islamabad to attend a tripartite meeting on Thursday between the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and representatives from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The meeting is to discuss the way forward after the existing tripartite agreement for voluntary repatriation of Afghans from Pakistan runs out in March 2006.
"During the past three years, peace and stability has returned to our country [Afghanistan]. [But] it'll for sure take time to have a thorough peace throughout the country," Dadfar noted. Female Afghan refugees attending the meeting cited several problems hindering repatriation though they said that inflation and police harassment make life difficult even in Pakistan.
"Its too difficult for us to make ends meet here in Pakistan," Asifa Begum told IRIN, "We stitch clothes and do embroidery at homes and our men work as daily wage labourers but even then expenses are difficult to meet. Rents of houses are increasing, prices of daily use items are getting higher day by day. But we've not any other choice. How long will it go on like this?" she asked.
"We've not any living facility there [in Afghanistan], nor we've enough money to get a house on rent. If we manage to go by some way, what we'll do there? There is no working opportunity," another Afghan woman, Shakila Bibi, at the gathering told IRIN. "[The] Afghan government should atleast provide rations for about six to eight months for repatriating families so that they could stand by their own in the meantime," added Bibi, who comes from Kabul province in Afghanistan.
"The miserable life in exile will come to an end soon," promised Dadfar after listening to refugees' complaints concerning the lack of shelter, employment, rations or social services amongst other necessities. The Afghan minister also urged the international community to increase support for repatriating refugees and to help the Afghan government boost development programmes.
About four million Afghans have returned over the last three years from various countries, including some 2.3 million from Pakistan alone. About 66,000 Afghans have returned so far this year, since the UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme resumed after the winter break in March. The refugee agency estimates some 400,000 Afghans will return this year out of over three million living in Pakistan.
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