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UNHCR: Large Numbers of Afghans Returning - 2002-04-02

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said huge numbers of Afghan refugees are returning home from Pakistan. The UNHCR said it urgently needs money to cope with the "phenomenal" return of these refugees.

UNHCR said it is surprised at the speed with which the Afghan refugees are returning home. It said since the joint repatriation program with Pakistan began on March 1, nearly 150,000 people have gone back to Afghanistan. UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville said the refugees now are returning at a rate of 50,000 a week. On Monday alone, he notes, more than 14,000 went back through one single registration center.

"This is a phenomenal rate of return so early in the year and it is reminiscent of 1992 when 1.2 million Afghans returned to Pakistan in eight months. The speed of the return is in danger of outstripping the receipt of funds. We are down to our last $2 million," he said.

Mr. Colville said the agency has received only $128 million out of a total of $271 million requested in the last appeal. On Wednesday, the refugee agency, Afghanistan and Iran will sign an agreement to eventually repatriate about 1.5 million refugees from Iran. Mr. Colville notes money also will be needed for that operation. On Wednesday as well, the United Nations will be hosting a donors' conference to raise funds for national police and military forces in Afghanistan. The U.N. Special Representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said the country is completely destroyed and funds are desperately needed to equip and train these domestic forces.

"Many countries and organizations are generally reluctant to contribute to the military. And, what we have been saying all along is that in the case of Afghanistan this is an essential part, indeed, the first indispensable part of any reconstruction program. The peace process depends on the resolution of the security situation," Mr. Brahimi said.

Mr. Brahimi also is calling on the international community to expand the international peacekeeping force which currently only operates in the capital Kabul. He said international peacekeepers are needed to ensure peace and security in other parts of the country, as well.