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Afghan Refugees Continue Returning Home Amid Difficulties

The United Nations Refugee Agency says Afghan refugees are returning home in significant numbers, despite the country's ongoing security and economic problems.

The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 350,000 Afghan refugees have returned home this year.

UNHCR Spokesman, Peter Kessler, said that number pales in comparison to the more than two million refugees who returned home after the fall of the Taleban but adds, it is still impressive. "Our goal is to see that people go back to a durable return and we are giving them assistance-building materials and other supplies to help them get through the first months back... We have not seen people sweeping back into Pakistan and Iran. That is very reassuring. That means that people are going back. We have seen enormous numbers of displaced Afghans return home. Whereas a year ago the number of displaced persons was some 700,000 wandering inside the country, the number of displaced Afghans away from their home communities is now less than one-quarter million," Mr. Kessler said.

Mr. Kessler said the Afghan refugees are fully aware of the difficulties they are likely to face when they return home.

He said many parts of Afghanistan remain insecure, the economy is in tatters and there are reports of grave abuses of human rights, particularly in regard to the rights of women and girls. He said access to health care and education is limited.

"More has to be done inside Afghanistan to improve security. More has to be done to improve access to education. Obviously, we would like to see the international security force expand its presence beyond Kabul. But, the Afghan refugees themselves are prepared to live within the constraints," Mr. Kessler said.

Mr. Kessler said there are as many as 2.3 million Afghan refugees still living in neighboring Iran and Pakistan.