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Britain Offers Cash to Refugees Who Return to Afghanistan

Britain is offering Afghan refugees up to $3,800 if they will volunteer to return to Afghanistan. Refugee advocates say they welcome the initiative.

Britain says the Afghan repatriation program will run for a trial period of six months, through the middle of February.

Under the program, Afghan refugees will be eligible for free airfare, plus a financial aid package ranging from $900 for individuals up to $3,800 for families.

British Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes announced the initiative. She says Britain is committed to helping Afghans go home voluntarily in what she calls "a dignified and sustainable manner."

British authorities say the plan will operate in partnership with the U.N. refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration, the Afghan embassy in London, Afghan communities in Britain, and non-government organizations.

Refugee advocacy groups are hailing the repatriation scheme, as long as it remains voluntary, and as long as refugees are not pressured to return home.

"Afghanistan is still unstable; it is a devastated country," said Hannah Fazal, a spokeswoman for the British Refugee Council. "So it is crucial that there be some kind of support package for refugees returning, so they have some chance of a future, and of rebuilding their lives. So we do welcome this initiative. It is very good news."

Last month, Britain said it would not allow Afghans to remain in the country indefinitely, if they have been turned down for asylum. The Home Office says the stricter asylum rules stem from what calls "the considerable improvement" in conditions in Afghanistan.

As part of the get-tough policy, Britain last week deported an Afghan family to Germany, where they had originally sought asylum two years ago. British police took the four-member Ahmadi family into custody last month after raiding a mosque where they had sought sanctuary.