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Afghan Nationals Voluntarily Return Home

Afghan Nationals Voluntarily Return Home

The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Philip Ruddock, has announced that seven Afghan nationals had voluntarily returned to Afghanistan from Australia over the weekend.

The seven men, aged between 18 and 33 years old, had been in immigration detention centres in Australia for between two and three years. Six of the men had arrived without proper authority by boat and one by air. A total of 17 travel documents have been issued and more returns will occur shortly.

The group had received repatriation allowances before arriving in Kabul and was met in Kabul by representatives from the Afghanistan government and by family and friends. The seven left the airport with their family members.

The group is the first to voluntarily return to Afghanistan from Australia since the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Mr Ruddock and the Afghan Minister for Refugees, Affairs and Returnees, Enayatullah Nazari, in Kabul on 16 of May 2002.

The returns follow announcements from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees about the appropriateness for people to return to Afghanistan.

The UNHCR is recommending to governments that the time is now ripe for Afghans - wherever they are and whatever stage they may be in the asylum process - to be offered the option of voluntary repatriation.

The UNHCR has said many of the reasons which prompted people to flee only a year ago, under the previous Taliban regime, no longer exist. Today, a legitimate government is in place.

More than one and a quarter million Afghans have now gone home from neighbouring countries since the assisted voluntary return program began on March 1, exceeding all expectations. The number of returns is still averaging about 8,000 per day, and UNHCR estimates some 2 million Afghan returns could take place this year alone.

The Afghan men returning from Australia took advantage of the reintegration package for Afghans who volunteer to return to Afghanistan.

"In view of the huge reconstruction task facing Afghanistan, the Government has offered to support the voluntary return of Afghans," Mr Ruddock said.

"Reintegration assistance will be provided to Afghan nationals who have sought to enter Australia without proper authority and who have been found not to be refugees or who are still waiting for a decision on applications for protection.

The package includes cash assistance of $AUD2000 per individual adult or child or up to $AUD10,000 for a family unit comprising husband, wife and dependent children. There is also a range of support services available to people once they return to Afghanistan.

Of the seven men, four are returning to wives and family who remained in Afghanistan while they were in Australia.

As at 17 July, 58 people have been formally offered the reintegration package in Australia, with 39 people having accepted.

"Future departures are being arranged as people come forward and volunteer to return," Mr Ruddock said.

The Afghan Transitional Government has emphasised the stability and safety that has been brought to the region, paving the way for Afghan nationals to return.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is responsible for arranging the returns, coordinating ongoing services in Afghanistan and distributing the cash assistance to returning asylum seekers after their departure from Australia.

22 July 2002


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