17 January 2005, UN News Center - Hundreds of thousands of the estimated 3 million Afghans still living in exile in Pakistan and Iran will likely return home this year but the pace of repatriation to their war-ravaged country should not be speeded up, according to the head of the United Nations refugee agency.
The rate of return in 2004 - when some 760,000 Afghans returned, mostly from Pakistan and Iran - was "correct and appropriate," UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers told a weekend news conference in Kabul, the Afghan capital, at the end of a four-day visit to discuss the need for long-term solutions on the issue.
More than 3.5 million Afghans have returned to their homes since UNHCR began its voluntary repatriation programme in 2002, the agency's largest operation in its 53-year history.
In his discussions with President Hamid Karzai and members of the newly appointed Afghan cabinet and the head of the country's human rights commission, Mr. Lubbers emphasized the need to ensure that those Afghans who do decide to return are helped to reintegrate into their places of origin.
UNHCR supports the reintegration of returnees through a number of programmes. With its assistance together with its partners, more than 170,000 homes across Afghanistan have been rebuilt since 2002 and some 8,000 wells or water points have been established in areas of high return.
In places where the return of significant numbers of returnees has created tensions or disputes UNHCR has launched coexistence initiatives which promote dialogue, inclusion and mutual understanding.
Mr. Lubbers visited various sites outside Kabul, including a village in Parwan province where he saw first hand how tensions between two communities over water supply had been eased through UNHCR interventions, and the Zhari Dasht camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in southern Kandahar province, the largest of four in the region where the agency its partners are providing shelter, food, education and health care to some 145,000 people.
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