U.N. says more than million refugees return to Afghanistan

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

GENEVA -- More than a million refugees have returned to Afghanistan, and the number is still rising, but international donations continue to lag behind urgent needs, the U.N. refugee agency said Monday.

"We've surpassed the 1 million mark, and now expect that up to 2 million Afghans could return home this year," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers. "Fresh contributions of funds and food aid are urgently needed."

Last week, Lubbers urged the European Union to give $94 million and make it possible for returning Afghans to rebuild their lives.

UNHCR spokesman Fernando del Mundo said that last Friday the EU contributed $1.86 million for the agency's Afghan refugee operations in Pakistan and $1.73 for Iran.

The agency needs $86 million to meet this year's target of $271 for operations in Afghanistan, del Mundo said.

In March, UNHCR and Afghan authorities launched a program to help Afghans return from Pakistan, Iran and other neighboring countries where some 3.7 million refugees were living after two decades of war and drought in their homeland.

UNHCR had expected 800,000 refugees to go home this year. But Lubbers said the operation had been more successful than expected.

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