Afghanistan + 1 more

Iran: Information campaign vital for Afghan returnees

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TEHRAN, 17 March (IRIN) - With the number of Afghan returnees from Iran expected to approach half a million this year under the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) voluntary repatriation programme, aid workers and Afghans themselves say the need for accurate information about the situation in their homeland is vital.
"I want to go back to help rebuild my country, but I need to know what to expect when I get there as my family and I have been living away from home for so long," Afghan refugee, Ahmadullah Rehman told IRIN in the heart of the Iranian capital, Tehran.

The journey back to Afghanistan is a daunting one for those who moved to Iran many years ago and for those Afghans who were born and raised in the country. To ensure that they are better informed of the situation back home various information campaigns have been devised.

"The most important information for Afghan returnees is the security situation in their villages and provinces," public information assistant for UNHCR Iran, Mohammed Nouri told IRIN.

Since the repatriation effort began in April 2002, UNHCR has been distributing a bulletin produced in Afghanistan in the local languages of Dari and Pashtu to Afghans in Iran giving details of the security situation in all provinces.

The document also explains how the repatriation programme works, providing news on assistance, including food and non-food items they are entitled to. The bulletin was also being distributed to Iranian NGOs and the media, Nouri added.

In addition to this, a wider reaching radio campaign, in conjunction with the BBC's Dari and Pashtu service, is in operation.

Broadcast five times a week in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, the programme specifically targets internally displaced people (IDPs) and returnees. "The programme provides Afghans with a forum to debate repatriation issues," Nouri said, adding that a post box number is given out during transmission allowing Afghans to send questions or concerns to be answered on air. "This programme has a massive reach and is one of the most effective ways of getting the information across," he explained.

Meanwhile, an information campaign run by the British NGO, Ockenden International is complimenting UNHCR's efforts, targeting aid agencies, the Afghan government and refugees.

"It is going to be a difficult transition for many refugees and they need to have a clear picture of what is going on inside their country before they can return to their villages and be prepared," country director for Ockenden in Iran, Nastaran Mosavi told IRIN. "It is also important for the aid agencies and the government to have this kind of information so they can plan better too," she added.

Some 25 aid workers from the NGO travelled to the five provinces of Nimroz and Helmand in the south, Herat and Farah in the west and Badhgis in the north, collecting data between June and October 2002.

The first of the two pamphlets, containing information on health, education, job opportunities, housing and the situation regarding electricity in more than 1,400 villages, was distributed to some 15,000 Afghans in Tehran, Mashad in the northeast and the southeastern province of Sistan Baluchistan.

"The second leaflet will have a wider reach of 25,000 Afghans and will be distributed at the end of April," she said, adding that there had been some problems in getting access to information in Herat this time round due to the reluctance of local authorities.

However, with the project coming to an end following this second distribution due to lack of funding, Mosavi said there was a need to continue the flow of information. There are more than two million Afghans in Iran according to UNHCR. Since the launch of the repatriation effort last year, 402,092 Afghans have returned home, the vast majority being assisted by the refugee agency.

"We expect some 500,000 Afghans to return this year but we are ready to assist more if need be," Nouri said. "Based on our interviews with Afghans, we know that many of them are willing to return. That is why it is so important to feed them with accurate and updated information on a regular basis," he said.

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