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UN: Refugees' Return Would Improve Stability In Afghanistan

The U.N. refugee agency said the return of millions of Afghan refugees is essential to the stability and long-term development of Afghanistan. The agency has created an action plan to aid Afghans in the midst of change.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, said the rapidly unfolding events in Afghanistan are providing the humanitarian community with new opportunities to help millions of Afghans suffering from more than two decades of conflict.

Mr. Lubbers said the international community must move quickly and work together to aid displaced Afghans while finding longer term solutions to one of the world's oldest refugee crises.

Jennifer Clark of the UNHCR said the return of Afghan refugees is the key to helping rebuild the country."We have seen returns from Iran through the whole crisis actually - sometimes upwards of 1,000 a day, and over 45,000 people have gone back on their own spontaneously from Iran. We have seen increasing numbers in the recent days from the Iran side. There are reports of people crossing from the Pakistan side as well," she said.

The U.N. refugee agency has devised a four-pronged action plan to aid 880,000 Afghans.

First, it said it will continue to protect the refugees, and second it will help refugees in nearby countries return to Afghanistan. It said it will maintain its aid stocks in Iran and Pakistan as long as the potential exists for new displacements. And finally, the refugee agency said it is working to assist 500,000 Afghans internally displaced inside the country.

The UNHCR is currently providing clothing and tents to help Afghans through the winter, but as Ms. Clark explained it will resume its operations to help Afghans settle back into their country."What we had been doing was working with returned refugees on shelter and what we call quick-impact projects, which are projects to help people get on their feet and get their lives started again as quickly as possible. So those are some of the areas we would continue to work along with the other U.N. agencies," she said.

Some 300,000 Afghans fled to Pakistan and another 80,000 went to Iran as a result of the current conflict. Even before the September terrorist attacks in the United States, there were more than 3.5 million Afghans in Iran and Pakistan.

UNHCR estimated it will need more than $180 million to carry out its aid program to Afghan refugees during the coming six months.