14 November 2008The top United Nations refugee official will be visiting Afghanistan next week to assess the progress and challenges in the world’s largest voluntary repatriation programme, which has already assisted some 4.3 million people in returning to their homeland. The top United Nations refugee official will be visiting Afghanistan next week to assess the progress and challenges in the world’s largest voluntary repatriation programme, which has already assisted some 4.3 million people in returning to their homeland. While in the capital, Kabul, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres will also co-chair with Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta an international conference on 19 November to mobilise support for the return and reintegration of Afghan refugees.The conference will include representatives from relevant Afghan ministries, regional governments, the main donor countries and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). It is expected to launch a plan, under the Government’s own Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS), to encourage the use of part of the $20 billion pledged at the Paris Conference in June, towards supporting returnees and their reintegration in Afghanistan.Since 2002 more than 5 million people have returned to Afghanistan, the majority from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. Some 4.3 million of them were assisted through the voluntary repatriation programme for Afghan refugees run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world’s largest for the past six years.The agency estimates there are still 2.8 million registered Afghans living in Pakistan and Iran.This year alone, over 277,000 people returned to Afghanistan – 99 per cent of them from Pakistan. Around 62 per cent of them returned to the three eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman. Mr. Guterres will be meeting with some of these returnees from Pakistan to better understand their needs and concerns when he visits the eastern part of the country. According to UNHCR, more than 30,000 recent returnees are living under tents in five makeshift settlements in the desert. “They say they cannot return to their home areas due to a lack of land, shelter and security,” agency spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva. “They have received emergency supplies from the Government, UNHCR and its partners, but will need a longer-term solution beyond this winter.”During a stop in western Afghanistan, Mr. Guterres will visit several camps for internally displaced Afghans, most of whom fled anti-Pashtun reprisals in the north and north-west after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. The camps also include those displaced by severe drought in provinces like Badghis.