Kabul Conference Pledges Support for Sustainable Return

Afghanistan, Kabul, 20 November/ corr. Trend A.Hakimi /The Afghan government and the UN refugee agency pledged to strengthen efforts for returnees and displaced people within Afghanistan national development strategy.

"The story of Afghanistan's return process marks one of the largest and most successful voluntary repatriation programs in recent decades," said Afghan foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta  at the opening of the international conference on return and reintegration of Afghan refugees in Kabul. Return alone does not mean success.

It must be followed by successful reintegration, enabled by conditions conducive for social and economic wellbeing of refugee. Greater efforts are needed to ensure returnees with basic services, such as access to land, water, shelter, general education, healthcare and electricity. In addition, the importance of facilitating jobs opportunities so that returnees become self-sufficient cannot overstate, he said.

More than 5 million Afghan refugees - 20 percent of Afghanistan population - have returned home since 2002.

The large majorities have gone back to their areas of origin, but recent returnees are facing more difficulties as the country's absorption capacity reaches its current limits. Some of them, including 30,000 returnees who are settled in tents in the eastern region, are unable to return to their villages due to insecurity, lack of land or shelter, basic services or job opportunities.

These challenges have been compounded by a food crisis and severe drought, forcing thousands of desperate families to leave their homes for other districts, even for neighboring Iran and Pakistan.

The conference co-chair, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Antonio Guterres, joined the Afghan government in thanking Iran and Pakistan for hosting millions of Afghan refugees over the past 30 year.

"We will continue to work closely with our counterparts in the three countries to ensure that return takes place in safety and dignity," he said.

The right to choose freely, in an informing settled refugee in one country into displaced persons in their homeland, is surely in no one's interest.

During the conference, the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation presented a costing paper on the Sector Strategy for Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the framework of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.

The costing paper is based on three possible scenarios over the period 2009 -2013, with projected returns ranging from 400,000 to 1 million people depending on the situation in Afghanistan and the neighboring countries.

It highlights the need to strengthen programs to help returnees to reintegrate over the next five years in the sector of land, shelter, water, sanitation, education, healthcare and livelihoods, with reintegration costs of more than $509 million.

"The Sector Strategy on Refugees, Returnees and IDP's remains the most effective blueprint for sustainable return.

Its success will require the sustained support of the international community, said Afghan Foreign Minister Spanta. At the same time he said that the government will work to increase our absorption capacity and better plan to manage and assist sustainable reintegration.

"We have also prioritized improving capacity in relevant ministries dealing with repatriation, fostering greater inter-ministerial coordination and mobilizing additional resources"

High Commissioner Guetrres said, "Ensuring sustainable refugee return and addressing irregular migration have at least one solution in common - an improvement in the overall economic environment and in employment opportunities.

Progress in these areas will surely encourage more Afghans to return and provide reasons for others not to leave the country".

Participants of the one day conference include the Afghan Ministers of Refugees and Repatriation, Finance, Economy, Education, Interior, Agriculture and Public Health.

Also in attendance were Iran's Deputy Interior Minister, Abbas Mohtaj, Pakistan's Minister for State and Frontier Regions, Najamuddin Khan, Saudi Arabia's Deputy Finance Minister Mohammad Abdul Rahman Al-Muqiteb, and United States Under secretary of State for Global affairs, Paupla Dobiansky.

The author of article can be contacted at:  [email protected]   

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