Afghanistan + 1 more

Pact to repatriate up to 600,000 Afghans set for signing in March

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Islamabad (dpa) - An agreement on the voluntary repatriation of up to 600,000 Afghan refugees from Pakistan will be signed on March 18 in Geneva, Rudd Lubbers head of the United Nations refugee agency said Monday, official media reported.

The tripartite agreement on the proposed repatriation was reached between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in October of last year.

Lubbers arrived in Pakistan after inspecting UNHCR operations in Afghanistan. His visit coincides with the start of UNHCR's 2003 programme to assist Afghan refugees who want to return home.

He told Pakistani Refugee Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao in Islamabad that some 288,000 Afghan refugees crossed into Pakistan after the September 11 events.

This added to an estimated 3.2 million Afghan refugees who left their country after a Soviet invasion in 1979 and were still in Pakistan.

Nearly 1.5 million refugees have already returned home since the U.N. refugee agency began assisting the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran in March, following the removal of the Islamic Taliban by the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

Pakistan says that some 300,000 Afghan refugees who had gone back to their homeland have returned owing to difficult conditions in Afghanistan. The refugees were given 100 U.S. dollars per family by the U.N. when they left Pakistan but received no assistance in Afghanistan.

Lubber feared that repatriation might encounter problems in certain areas of Afghanistan facing insecurity, lawlessness and economic hardships.

Sherpao said Pakistan was in favour of a dignified return of the Afghan refugees as it "wants peace on our western borders (with Afghanistan) which is in interest of the entire region''.

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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 03/03/2003 11:50:52

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