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UN Helped 500,000 Afghans Return From Pakistan

UN Agency Helped Nearly Half A Million Afghans Return From Pakistan In 2005

With the year’s last convoys leaving Pakistan for Afghanistan before winter sets in, over 445,000 Afghans will have returned home from in 2005 under the voluntary repatriation programme of the United Nations refugee agency.

Indrika Ratwatte, Assistant Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Pakistan, said this is the highest number of returns since 2002, when the agency helped nearly 1.6 million Afghans to go home. “In all, more than 2.73 million Afghans have gone home from Pakistan under this programme since it started in 2002.”

A total of 29 Afghan families – 164 individuals – left three different Pakistani provinces and joined a convoy that set off on Monday towards their homes in three different Afghan provinces. Their reasons for waiting for this final trip were as varied as the ways that they had survived their long sojourns stemming from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and the evolving civil war that tore the country further apart during the 1990s.

Mohammad Zia, for example, had been living for five years in Attock, about an hour's drive from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. “I’m a carpet weaver and I was working in the carpet-weaving factory in Attock,” he explained, adding that he had to complete his last carpet, which took three months to make, before receiving his last pay-check.

Mr. Zia said he looked forward to rebuilding his house in Kabul. “I hope and believe that I can spend my life in Afghanistan better than in Pakistan. At least I will not be a refugee, and I will try to find a job.”

Under the assisted return programme, UNHCR offers travel assistance and a cash payment to aid reestablishment in Afghanistan.

In addition to this year’s returnees, 1.5 million refugees have gone home from Iran since early 2002, meaning 4.2 million Afghans in all have returned to their homeland since the fall of the Taliban: the biggest organized repatriation since the UNHCR was created in 1951, the agency said. There are an estimated 2.6 million Afghans still living in Pakistan plus about 1 million registered in Iran. Next year's repatriation season will begin in March.

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