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UN refugee chief expects 1 million Afghans to be repatriated this year

19 April 2004 - The United Nations expects up to 1 million Afghan refugees to be repatriated from host countries Iran and Pakistan and up to 100,000 internally displaced people to return to their southern and western Afghanistan homes this year, UN High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said.

"I do hope that after somewhat slowing down, and following the start of this year's organized returns, we will see a substantial repatriation," the High Commissioner said yesterday in Kabul after his four-day visit to Afghanistan, his sixth trip to the region since early 2001.

"To give you an indication, we think it is possible this year to see some substantial numbers again, even up to 1 million from host countries, Iran and Pakistan."

The drop-off in numbers took place during the harsh winter months and also followed the murder of UNHCR aid worker Bettina Goislard in eastern Ghazni province last year. Some 100,000 Afghans have been repatriated from neighbouring countries so far this year.

Mr. Lubbers suggested that the Afghan Government offer state-owned land to categories of refugees vital to the country's reconstruction, such as teachers.

While in Afghanistan, he met President Hamid Karzai and ministers of his government before proceeding to Pakistan for meetings on Monday with President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali.

Meanwhile, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghan Ministry of Defence, in a joint project called the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), have collected between 4,000 and 5,000 heavy weapons, most of which need cranes to move them to eight or nine designated cantonment sites, ANBP Acting Programme Director Peter Babbington told a separate news conference in Kabul.

... Payvand News - 4/20/04 ... --

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