The number of Afghan refugees returning home has dropped substantially this year, with some 60,000 repatriating in the first 10 months compared to more than 100,000 over the same period in 2010, the United Nations refugee agency has reported.
“The lack of livelihood opportunities and shelter, as well as insecurity are the most frequently cited reasons for not returning,” Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news conference in Geneva.
As part of UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation programme, which is now in its 10th year, refugees coming back to Afghanistan receive an average of $150 per person to cover transport as well as the initial cost of settling back home.
The Government and its partners are working to ensure sustainable reintegration, but Afghanistan’s capacity to effectively absorb additional returns is limited, said the agency.
“Some families who returned this year will need additional support to make it through the winter,” Mr. Edwards noted. “Many others don’t have land, shelter, schools and health care. These families need job opportunities to become self-sufficient.”
This year’s returnees included 43,000 from Pakistan, about 17,000 from Iran and less than 100 from other countries, according to UNHCR.
Pakistan is currently home to 1.7 million Afghan refugees, many of whom who have lived in exile for more than quarter of a century. Half this population is people born outside Afghanistan and do not own property there. The number of Afghan returnees from Pakistan was 59 per cent lower than last year, said the agency.
Meanwhile, the number of returns from Iran is double to that of last year, when 7,500 Afghans were assisted home.
“The reason for the increase in voluntary assisted returns from Iran appears to be due to economic pressures and the discontinuation of subsidies on basic goods and services by the Iranian Government,” said Mr. Edwards.
Since March 2002, UNHCR and its partners have assisted 4.6 million Afghans in repatriating, mainly from Pakistan and Iran. In total, 5.7 million Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan and Iran, representing nearly a quarter of Afghanistan’s population.
Nearly three million registered Afghan refugees remain in exile in the region today, including 1.7 million in Pakistan and one million in Iran. UNHCR is calling for international support to help returnees settle back in their homeland.