2.2 million refugees return to Afghanistan

KABUL: More than 2.2 million Afghan refugees have returned home from Pakistan and Iran with UN assistance since March last year, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR said yesterday. 

“The number of Afghan refugees who returned to Afghanistan with UNHCR and government assistance since the start of the operation in March 2002 surpassed the 2.2 million mark on Friday,” Maki Shinohara said. 

While returns have slowed since last year, Shinohara said by yesterday around 400,000 refugees would have returned to Afghanistan this year with UN help. Nearly 300,000 have returned from Pakistan and more than 100,000 from Iran with UN help while thousands of others have headed home under their own steam. 

“If we include the estimate of those who returned on their own, spontaneously, over 500,000 refugees have returned to Afghanistan this year,” Shinohara said. 

The figures were low compared with last year when 1.8 million refugees returned but Shinohara said they were still high compared with other refugee operations, with about 10,000 Afghans continuing to return home every week. 

Filipo Grandi, head of UNHCR operations in Afghanistan, said last month most of those refugees who returned last year had strong reasons to come back to Afghanistan – such as a job, house or land – or were very poor and seeking better opportunities. – AFP  

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