Afghanistan + 1 more

Pakistani Minister Rind hands UNHCR cheque for Afghan repatriation

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GENEVA, May 10 (UNHCR) - Pakistan's Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind on Wednesday presented High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres with a cheque worth the equivalent of US$5 million to help Afghan refugees return to their country.

Pakistan has also announced a separate contribution of some US$1 million towards the registration and de-registration of Afghans in Pakistan. Guterres and Rind held up the giant cheque for 303.4 million Pakistani rupees Ilia outside the High Commissioner's office in Geneva.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond had told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday that the agency urgently required an increase in its voluntary repatriation and integration programme by an additional US$15 million. He added that UNHCR was "grateful to the government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for this generous and timely contribution towards this effort."

Since 2002, more than 5 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan (3.2 million) and Iran (1.8 million). But in 2006, there was a significant decline in repatriation, with 133,000 persons returning from Pakistan and 5,000 persons from Iran.

UNHCR believes that the main factors behind the decline in returns are the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the challenging economic and social conditions inside the country, and the long exile of the remaining 3 million Afghans, half of whom were born outside Afghanistan.

In an effort to maintain the momentum of voluntary repatriation in 2007, and in close consultation with the governments of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, UNHCR earlier this year increased the repatriation grant given to Afghan returnees from US$60 to US$100 per person. The additional money is designed to help returnee families meet initial essential needs on their return home.

Following further consultations, it was also decided that, on an exceptional and time=ADlimited basis, those Afghans who did not register during the recent mandatory registration exercise carried out in Pakistan but who wanted to return should also receive this increased assistance package. As a result, some 205,000 unregistered Afghans returned home with the increased cash grant between March 1 and April 15.

UNHCR had set aside US$15 million to support 150,000 persons with the enhanced repatriation package. But the return of an additional 205,000 unregistered Afghans surpassed that amount.

With the additional US$15 million now required, the total budget for UNHCR's repatriation operation this year will be US$99 million, for which donor support is urgently needed. At present, the budget is about a third funded.

"We are very grateful for Pakistan's generosity and are deeply committed to working together with the government in continuing to help Afghan refugees return home," Guterres later said.