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UN Official: Return of  Afghan Refugees is 'Encouraging' - 2002-03-02

For the first time since September 11, the United Nations is repatriating Afghan refugees. The first group left the refugee camps Friday, but the U.N. officials did not specify where the refugees came from.

The initial round of Afghans returning home under the auspices of the United Nations numbers 150, a veritable trickle considering that approximately 3.5 million displaced persons are awaiting re-entry into Afghanistan. But according to U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq, it is an encouraging sign.

"Afghans are feeling it's safer to return, as there's more security on the ground," he said. "Since the start of this year, an estimated 150,000 Afghans have gone back home voluntarily, and once we can start assisting them in those returns, hopefully more and more can come back."

On September 11, the U.N. High Commission on Refugees suspended its assistance of Afghans returning home from neighboring Iran and Pakistan because of new instability in the region.

The United Nations humanitarian agencies wish to secure more than $1 billion to fund reconstruction and redevelopment projects in the war-torn country. Part of that money will go to the repatriation effort.