KABUL, 29 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - The arrival of 21,000 Afghan families from Pakistan over the past six weeks has placed an additional strain on aid agencies in providing adequate humanitarian assistance, representatives say.
"The return of such a large of number over [such] a relatively short period of time just before the winter has created additional pressures for reintegration operations," Tim Irwin, a spokesman of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Thursday.
Together with relevant government ministries, other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, the UN refugee agency was working to ensure that families and individuals were able to settle in their places of origin before winter sets in, Irwin maintained.
As part of a previous decision made in 2004, Islamabad announced plans to close all refuge facilities by 1 August located across the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a western restive tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, offering Afghan residents in the area the option of repatriating or relocating to any other site inside Pakistan.
That decision prompted more than 120,000 Afghans living in the refugee camps of the tribal Kurram and Bajaur agencies to head to Afghanistan - availing themselves of the voluntary UNHCR repatriation assistance package. The influx of FATA returnees included mostly those Afghans who had crossed into Pakistan in the early years of the Soviet-Afghan conflict in the late 1970s.
According to UNHCR, to date, the destinations of over 94,000 Afghans from Pakistan's tribal areas include the eastern and central provinces of Paktya, Khost, Nangarhar, Kunar, Logar and Kabul.
"Many of the families are returning to areas where there has been limited development due to the security situation," Jacques Mouchet, UNHCR representative in Afghanistan, said earlier this week in Kabul. "There are also a large number of individuals who left Afghanistan 25 years ago and who face challenges in reintegrating into their former communities."
Under UNHCR's current voluntary repatriation assistance programme, returnees are eligible for transport assistance ranging from US $4 to $37 per person, depending on the distance to their destination. Additionally, they receive a grant of $12 each to help them with additional costs.
The return assistance is complemented by programmes designed to help returnees re-establish their lives in their places of origin.
To assist the returnees in their foremost need of shelter, the UN refugee agency plans to build some 24,000 housing units across the country in 2005. Of this, some 7,000 units were completed by the end of August, located primarily in the provinces of Kabul, Parwan, Logar, Kunduz and Balkh.
The refugee agency has also been working to increase access to fresh water, with water points for some 65,000 individuals across the country being dug - mainly in Baghlan, Faryab and Jawzjan provinces in the north, Kandhar and Uruzgan in the south, Herat and Nimruz in the west and Daikundi province, located in the Central Highlands.
Moreover, UNHCR has been running about 21 income generation projects across the fledgling state to assist poor communities in supplementing their earnings in southern, eastern, and central regions. These include poultry farming, road rehabilitation, tailoring and handicrafts.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government has also been helping by providing the returnees land for shelter. Recently, the Ministry of Women's Affairs announced its plans to build accommodation for at least 1 million vulnerable Afghan women across the country with a German construction firm.
Afghan repatriation, now in its fourth year, is the largest organised repatriation operation in the history of UNHCR. Since the repatriation effort began in March 2002 following the collapse of the Taliban regime, a total of 2.9 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan and 1.3 million from Iran.
According to the latest figures, Pakistan still hosts some 3 million Afghans in the country, with another 900,000 living in Iran.
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