Militancy, insecurity slow down refugees repatriation: Afghan FM

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KABUL, Nov 19, 2008 (Xinhua via COMTEX News Network) -- Afghan Minister for Foreign Affairs Rangin Dadfar Spanta said Wednesday that continued insurgency and security incidents had slowed down the process of Afghan refugees' return to their homeland.

"Compared to previous years, the pace of repatriation has slowed substantially. This is the result of a combination of factors such as terrorism and insecurity, poverty and a challenging humanitarian situation," Spanta said in an international conference held by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) here.

However, the process of repatriation of the refugees has slowed down gradually over the past two years due to continued insurgency and unemployment in Afghanistan.

Since the resumption of refugees' repatriation with the support of the UNHCR in 2008, some 250,000 Afghans have returned to their homeland, mostly from Pakistan, while around three million Afghans are still living in exile as refugees with a majority of them in the neighboring countries of Pakistan and Iran.

The Afghan Foreign Minister said that the voluntary return of the remaining three million refugees with dignity must be ensured.

In this regard, he added that greater efforts are needed to ensure returnees with basic services, such as access to land, water, shelter, general education, health-care and electricity.

Speaking at the conference of Return and Reintegration attended by some 30 countries, the Chief of UNHCR Antonio Guterres admitted that "the number of returning refugees had decreased sharply in recent years and at the same time the number of Afghans leaving the country, mostly because of unemployment, are also rising."

More than 5 million out of 8 million Afghan refugees, according to UN statistics, have returned home since 2002 following the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.