UNHCR to build 10,000 houses for returnees in 2010

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The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said today it expects to build 10,000 houses for returning Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 2010.

According to UNHCR, the construction of 10,000 new houses will bring the total number built since 2002 to an anticipated 200,000 units, assisting more than 1.2 million returnees mostly from Pakistan and Iran.

The new shelter units are being built by recognizing shelter as one of the priority needs of returnees, according to a statement issued by the agency in Kabul today.

The refugee agency has facilitated the return of more than five million Afghans, an estimated 20 per cent of the total population, since 2002, making this operation "one of the most significant in the agency's 60-year history."

It has also assisted over 500,000 IDPs to return to their places of origin and voluntary return has been the preferred durable solution for them.

Still, there are approximately 2.6 million Afghan refugees living beyond the country's borders - mostly in Pakistan and Iran.

Although sustainable return and reintegration is becoming increasingly challenging in view of the deterioration of the security situation, limited socio-economic opportunities and widespread poverty, "large portions of the returnees have been able to go back to their places of origin and are living a normal life", said Mohammad Nader Farhad, public information officer with UNHCR Afghanistan.

Together with Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, UNHCR will continue to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran and their reintegration within their communities.

UNHCR's operation in Afghanistan is in line with the goals of the "Refugee, Returnee and IDP" set out in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS).

"During 2010 UNHCR's reintegration activities such as shelter, water, and income generating projects inside Afghanistan will focus on addressing the needs of the most vulnerable returning Afghans," said today's statement.

Water and sanitation activities will remain one of UNHCR's priorities for assisting returnees.

The agency has helped build or reconstruct more than 10,000 water points since 2002.

While continuing to monitor the situation of returnees and provide free legal advice, UNHCR will also run a special programme that provides assistance to extremely vulnerable individuals in 2010.

"UNHCR will also continue to advocate for the longer term reintegration needs of returnees to be fully mainstreamed into national development programmes so as to underpin the sustainability of voluntary repatriation," said UNHCR.

By Tilak Pokharel, UNAMA