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UNHCR helps 376,000 Afghans return from Iran, 300,000 from Pakistan

The number of Afghan refugees, assisted by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to return from Pakistan to Afghanistan this year passed the 300,000 mark on Wednesday, when another 1963 Afghans left the validation centers for their homeland, IRNA reported from Islamabad.

According to a UNHCR statement, the total since the beginning of 2003 now stands at 300,375 In addition. UNHCR last year helped more than 1.5 million Afghans return to their country under the voluntary repatriation program.

Since the start of the repatriation program, which followed the return of peace after the removal of the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, 376,178 Afghan refugees have also returned from Iran.

This year 173,273 Afghans have returned from Iran, 105,673 with UNHCR assistance and 67,600 on their own, the statement added.

Under the program, which runs until 2005, UNHCR provides refugees wishing to return with a travel grant, food and some non-food items to help them re-establish in Afghanistan. The refugee agency is also assisting with the reconstruction of some 60,000 homes.

All returning refugees over the age of six must pass through one of three iris testing centers in Pakistan on their way back to Afghanistan.

The technology detects anyone who tries to go through the test and receive assistance for a second time.

As winter in Afghanistan approaches, the number of refugees deciding to return is expected to decline steadily. However, last week UNHCR helped 8,838 refugees to go home, down only slightly from 8,962 in the first week of September. The weekly returns peaked at about 18,000 at the end of June.

At the start of this year, UNHCR estimated there were 1.2 million Afghan refugees in camps in Pakistan. An unknown, but substantial, number of Afghans also live in Pakistan`s urban centers. About a third of those who returned this year came from camps.

... Payvand News - 9/18/03 ... --

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