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UN Refugee Chief Begins Asian Visit

UN Refugee Chief Begins Asian Visit Aimed At Solving Afghan Refugee Problem

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers held talks with high-ranking Pakistani officials in Islamabad today at the start of a visit to the region in which he will seek to solve the problem of an estimated 3 million Afghans still living in exile in Pakistan and Iran.

During the meeting, Pakistan and UNHCR formally agreed to conduct a census next month of all Afghans who arrived in the country in the past 25 years, recording gender, ethnicity, address and source of livelihood, as well as whether they intend to return to their war-ravaged homeland in the next 12 months.

This information will assist the Pakistani Government and UNHCR in developing policies for those Afghans who do not return home before the end of the agency’s voluntary assisted repatriation programme in March 2006.

Tomorrow, Mr. Lubbers will travel to Afghanistan, where he is scheduled to meet with President Hamid Karzai and several ministers in the newly-appointed Afghan Cabinet. He will also travel to Herat and Kandahar, to visit an area where many newly-returned refugees are living, as well as a camp for internally displaced persons.

More than 3.5 million Afghan refugees have returned home since the start of the voluntary repatriation programme in 2002 following decades of occupation and civil war in their country.

The UN agency believes just under 1 million Afghans now remain in Iran, and another million are still living in refugee camps in Pakistan. An unknown but substantial number are also living in cities across the country.

© Scoop Media

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