KABUL, 10 Aug 2004 (IRIN) - The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is moving forward with its shelter programme to provide 20,500 housing units for Afghan returnees this year. While over 3.6 million refugees have returned over the past two years, lack of accomodation remains a huge problem for most returnees.
"The shelter programme is mainly for vulnerable Afghan returnees who find their houses destroyed once they are back in their homeland," Nader Farhad a spokesman for UNHCR told IRIN in Kabul. So far, this year more than half a million Afghans had returned, mainly from Iran, he added.
According to Farhad, this year, UNHCR initially signed agreements with partner agencies to construct the housing units for vulnerable returnees across the country. Of these units, 28 percent had been completed to the roofing level by the end of July 2004. In the meantime, the selection of additional vulnerable returnees who are eligible for shelter assistance is continuing in most provinces.
As part of an initial reintegration effort to help vulnerable returnees, UNHCR, in collaboration with the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MRR), provided some 100,000 rural shelter units as new homes that have benefited more than half a million Afghans in the past two years.
Although at least another 11,350 housing units are planned by other operational partners mainly in central, southeastern, western and northern regions, this number wouldn't be sufficient to cover the shelter needs of the returnees, he said, as lack of adequate housing was one of the most urgent needs for returning refugees to rural, as well as urban areas.
The UN refugee agency has allocated some US $22 million to support 20,500 families build their shelters and this was expected to benefit approximately 102,500 individuals in 2004, Farhad highlighted, while there was a need to fill a gap of 20,000 housing units, which had initially been planned by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) but could not be implemented due to lack of funding.
To fill this gap, UNHCR has planned an additional 7,000 units for the second phase this year, increasing its overall planning figure for 2004 to 27,500 shelter units, he pointed out.
UNHCR has so far signed more than 60 contracts with international and local NGOs for this year's shelter programme, which would also target some urban areas, Farhad stressed.
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