Tehran, Jan 5, IRNA -- Since the implementation of a UN-sponsored plan for repatriation of Afghan refugees from Iran, more than 377,759 Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland, a spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)'s spokesman in the Islamic Republic, Mohammad Nouri, told IRNA here Sunday.
Of the above-stated figure, 117,923 returned home voluntarily while the rest repatriated under the voluntary accord signed between Iran, Afghanistan and the UN in Geneva in April last year. The accord envisions the repatriation of 400,000 Afghan refugees each calendar year, added the spokesman.
He said that Iran will provide returning refugees with transport as well as financial and material assistance to start their lives anew.
The official said sanitary products, wheat flour, plastic floor coverings, heaters, blankets and fuel were among the items Afghan returning refugees would be provided.
The repatriation of Afghan refugees is carried out through the two main border checkpoints of Dogharoun, situated between the Iranian province of Khorassan in the northeast and the Afghan city of Herat, and Milak, which links Iran's Sistan Baluchestan and Nimruz province in Afghanistan.
Iran reopened the Milak border crossing in November after a five-month closure because of regional instability on the Afghan side. It was closed in June after 16 people were killed and many others wounded during a factional fighting which occurred across the border.
Dogharoun is the main route for the repatriation of Afghans which has seen more than 352,000 refugees return home so far. The crossing has remained open since the fall of the hardline Taliban militia in November this year.
Since August 28, Iranian police have had to deal with Afghans who are still in the country and lack the proper residence permits.
According to a World Food Program report this year, Iran is hosting about 2.65 million refugees, 2.35 million of which are Afghans, 203,000 Iraqis and 5,000 nationals of other countries.
Nouri also informed that the government has come up with another plan for repatriation of some 500,000 Afghan refugees which will be implemented at the beginning of next year (March 21, 2003).
In a communique issued saturday in Kabul, the UNHCR said the security and dearth of food are among the main concerns of the Afghan and UN officials in Afghanistan.
It said the donors have to provide assistance for the UNHCR to provide food and shelter for the Afghan returnees.
It said since March some 1.8 million Afghan refugees have come back to Afghanistan.
The officials are after setting the food problem during the cold season to prevent happening of a human catastrophe, the same source said.
It said plans need to be drawn up to provide shelter for the homeless within a short period of time.
The massive refugee camp of Maslakh in Afghanistan's historic western city of Herat, stands as a sharp reminder of the challenges destitute Afghans face, even after the collapse of the Taliban last year.
Reportedly, more than 100,000 men, women and children struggle to survive in the squalid camp -- almost half have been there for almost a year. Many face a harsh winter under makeshift shelters with just basic food and medicine, UNHCR said earlier.
Their plight is common to hundreds of thousands of Afghan IDPs (internally displaced persons) who have been made homeless by decades of conflict and an ongoing drought.
According to an assessment by UNHCR and its partners, roughly over half a million IDPs and former refugees throughout Afghanistan will be in need of assistance during the winter, particularly for shelter, food, water, health care, and non-food related assistance.
Refugees' ordeal portrays the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of Afghan nomads, whose animals were killed by drought or lost while fleeing ethnic persecution in northern Afghanistan.
Most of the nomads have ended up in displacement camps around the country, but some live in scattered villages, receiving little assistance.
The post-11 September US-led military campaign in Afghanistan and the anarchy after the fall of the Taliban displaced yet more people.
Some of the ethnic Pashtuns - constituting the majority of IDPs in the western region - were forced to abandon their villages or give up their animals when ethnic militias loyal to local warlords started settling scores after the demise of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban.
Although the total number of IDPs in western Afghanistan is hard to determine, some estimate that more than 100,000 might be staying in the five camps in and around Herat.
More than 80,000 of them returned to their villages - mostly in the three provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghowr - under a program supervised by the International Organization of Migration (IOM).
Diarrhea and respiratory diseases are common in the crowded environment. But Maslakh, named after the once-functional slaughterhouse near the camp, has always been a symbol of Afghan suffering long before 11 September 2001.
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