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Over 1 million Afghans likely to return home in next two years - UN refugee chief

18 February 2005, UN News Center - More than 1 million of the up to 3 million Afghans still living in exile in Pakistan and Iran are likely to return home in the next two years with the prospects for improved security, and it is "absolutely crucial" that international donor commitment remains high, according to the head of the United Nations refugee agency.

"Millions of Afghans have come back to help rebuild their country and we must continue to help them help themselves," UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers told a high-level meeting in Brussels of officials from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

He expressed appreciation to donors for their assistance in the return of more than 3.5 million refugees to Afghanistan since a voluntary repatriation programme began in 2002, following the fall of the Taliban regime, and he stressed that successful integration is a longer task.

Wednesday's meeting, co-chaired by UNHCR and the European Commission, discussed the options available to the refugees, conditions of return in Afghanistan and the broader issue of how to manage population movements within the region.

Last year alone, UNHCR helped in the return of more than three-quarter of a million Afghans. There are between 2 million and 3 million Afghans still in Iran and Pakistan.

"In the area of security, we have seen improvements in the past few months. It is a step by step process, but slowly we are getting there," Mr. Lubbers told reporters, noting that more than half a million people could return this year from Iran and Pakistan, and a similar number in 2006.

He said there also was a need to start thinking of solutions for Afghans who have become so well integrated in their adopted country that they may not wish to return. Some refugees have lived in Iran or Pakistan for more than two decades. Some have married there and have become productive members of the society they live in.

"Voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution but in some cases it may not be appropriate, and we need to start planning ahead and find solutions for those Afghans who will remain in Iran and Pakistan once the voluntary repatriation operation is over," he added.

... Payvand News - 2/22/05 ... --

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