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Afghan Government Struggles to Resettle Returnees

The chief of the United Nations refugee agency is in Afghanistan to highlight the difficulty in resettling the millions of Afghans displaced by decades of war. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Kabul.

In a makeshift camp north of Kabul about 20 families who returned to Afghanistan in 2003 are still searching for a permanent home.

They are originally from Parwan province, north of Kabul, but after living for 10 years in Pakistan, they could not reclaim the land they abandoned. They lived in temporary camps for several years. In 2006, the government resettled them on land about 40 kilometers north of the capital.

Zamary said his family tried to live there last year, but decided to return to Kabul to survive this winter.

He said it was difficult to survive because it was so cold and there isn't any work.

Another woman said her children now beg for food in the streets of Kabul, but it is easier than living in the area where the government resettled them.

She said "in the government houses we didn't have any wood to heat the rooms and we didn't have jobs, so we returned to Kabul for this winter."

About five million Afghans have returned home since 2001. Despite record levels of violence, 280,000 more are expected to return this year.

The head of the United Nations Refugee Agency, Antonio Guterres, said about 18 percent of returnees have been unable to go back to their homes because of insecurity.

"Nobody wants the refugees that come back to become displaced inside their own country, or to need to migrate and sometimes migrate irregularly with lots of risks in relation to their future," he said.

The United Nations estimates about three million Afghans are still living in Iran and Pakistan. In recent years, the flow of returnees has slowed as violence has worsened.

Guterres says the Iranian government has pledged to not forcibly return recognized Afghan refugees. But he says many Afghans have recently fled insecurity and poor economic prospects by crossing into Iran. He said it is much more difficult to protect the new arrivals, who lack proper documentation.