The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government of Afghanistan pledged to strengthen efforts to help returnees and displaced Afghans. The pledge was made at the International Conference on the Return and Reintegration of Afghan Refugees hosted by the UNHCR and Afghanistan government.
The conference brought together the key participants supporting close to 3 million refugees, primarily in Pakistan and Iran and sought ways to align repatriation timelines with medium-term development strategies within the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.
"The story of Afghanistan's return process marks one of the largest and most successful voluntary repatriation programmes in recent decades," said Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta. "Return, alone, does not mean success," said Foreign Minister Spanta. "It must be followed by successful reintegration, enabled by conditions conducive for social and economic wellbeing of refugees," he said.
More than 5 million Afghan refugees -- 20 percent of Afghanistan's population -- have returned home since 2002. Most of the returnees 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, including 30 thousand refugees now living under tents in the eastern region, are unable to return to their villages due to insecurity, a lack of land, shelter, basic services or job opportunities. These challenges have been compounded by severe drought and food shortages.
Estimates on the number of internally displaced persons vary. A high range estimate by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center puts the number of Afghans displaced by drought in the north and west this year at more than 6,500.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs and Democracy Paula Dobriansky, who led the U.S. delegation to the conference in Kabul, said the international humanitarian community stands ready to assist Afghanistan in aiding refugees and displaced persons.
Since October 1, 2001, the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration has programmed more than 500 million dollars for humanitarian assistance to Afghan refugees, conflict victims, and internally displaced persons, including over 50 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2008. The United States is committed to working with the government of Afghanistan and the UNHCR to ensure that repatriation to Afghanistan remains voluntary, safe, and at a pace linked to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.