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Aid Donors Called on to Match Funding Promises for Afghan Refugee Repatriation - 2003-03-04


The United Nations refugee agency is urging aid donors to meet their commitments to fund the repatriation of Afghan refugees and not let the Iraq crisis divert their attentions.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said that some donor countries have already been late in providing funds to support this year's program to repatriate more than one million Afghan refugees.

Mr. Lubbers was speaking at a news conference in the Pakistani capital at the end of a visit to Afghanistan. He urged the international donors to meet their financial obligations made after the ouster of the Taleban more than a year ago.

"I fear that Iraq diverts attentions. So I am concerned. Everybody is a bit nervous about Iraq. It would be a fatal mistake to neglect the need to build a peaceful Afghanistan," Mr. Lubbers said.

There are an estimated four million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Most of them fled their homes because of 23 years of war and a prolonged drought in Afghanistan that began in 1998.

Security and economic conditions have improved since a U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition removed the Taleban from power more than a year ago. This has encouraged nearly two million refugees - most of them from Pakistan - to return home under a U.N. sponsored voluntary repatriation program.

U.N. High Commissioner Lubbers has said that Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United Nations will sign an agreement this month on repatriating the remaining refugees in Pakistan over the next three years.

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