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Nearly 2 Million Afghans Have Returned Home, says UNHCR - 2002-09-04


The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says nearly two million Afghans have returned home so far this year. Agency officials say this is the largest repatriation anywhere in the world since 1972, when almost 10 million Bengalis who had fled to India from East Pakistan returned to Bangladesh.

The U.N. refugee agency says thousands of Afghan refugees continue to return home every day. Agency officials say that although the number of returnees from Pakistan has declined in recent months, the number of returnees from Iran has increased. UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler says the slowdown from Pakistan is primarily due to conditions in Afghanistan. "Security conditions in parts of the country are still fragile," he said. "Another problem may be that these people may not get the jobs and the health care and the education that they had in their asylum countries which may put pressure on the government to provide these services in a situation where its own resources are vastly unable to meet the demand."

Mr. Kessler says the increasing number of returns from Iran is largely because of pressure on the refugees from the Iranian government. He says Tehran has been using various means to tell its vast Afghan population that it is time for them to go home. "There have also been reports that some of the refugees have not been able to renew the leases on their apartments, their homes, that new laws, of course, penalizing employers for using illegal labor are causing many companies to fire Afghan laborers which is also, of course, giving the Afghans incentives to go back," said Peter Kessler. "So, it is a combination of issues that is sending more Afghans to the UNHCR and government administration points in Iran to go back."

UNHCR spokesman Kessler says Iran also has forcibly deported some 16,000 Afghans since March.

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