Afghanistan: UN refugee agency helps returnees build their own houses

By Homayon Khoram

Five hundred families have received land plots and 200 of them have started building their own houses with shelter assistance from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the town of Ittehad in Baghlan province.

Ittehad is located in the Dasht-e-Khwaja Alwan area which is just a few kilometres from Pul-i-Khumri, the provincial capital of Baghlan province.

"We had a difficult life in exile. With a land plot and shelter assistance to build a house, my dream has now been realised," says Haji Abdul Qader, who spent 22 years in Miranshah, North Waziristan, Pakistan. "I never had a house and in the first time in my life, I will have my own house," added Haji Abdul Qader.

Ittehad town is a unique returnees' town where there is functioning school, a health clinic, vocational training centres, water points and gravelled roads inside the town.

90 returnee-women and girls learn carpet-weaving skills in a training centre in the town.

"I received a plot of land, masonry tools, beams, doors and windows; what else could I wish for," says Khan Mohammad, an Afghan returnee who spent 20 years in Pakistan.

Juma Gul another Afghan refugee who returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2006 is living in his newly built house. "I have got my new house and the school in the town is very helpful as I don't have to worry about my children," says Juma Gul.

Afghanistan is a country with the highest number of refugees in the world. More than five million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The vast majority of refugees have returned from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

"The families in Baghlan have received 600 square metres of land and building materials such as beams, doors and windows," said Nader Farhad a UNHCR spokesman. "200 families have received UNHCR's shelter assistance and 300 will receive it next year," added Nader Farhad.

Over one million returnees have benefited from rural housing programmes and approximately 170,000 houses have been built since 2002.

Nearly a quarter of a million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan in 2008 and since 2002 more than 225,000 refugees have returned to Baghlan alone.

"A total of 70,000 people will benefit from 10,000 housing units as part of UNHCR's shelter programme in 2008," concluded Nader Farhad.