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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 22:21 GMT 23:21 UK
Aid plea as Afghan refugees pour back
Afghan refugees
Many returning refugees face reprisal attacks
Tens of thousands of refugees are returning to Afghanistan every week, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

There's no way back, we have to build up Afghanistan

Ruud Lubbers, UNHCR
Forty-thousand Afghans are now going back from Pakistan each week, bringing the total to 285,000 since a voluntary repatriation programme was launched last month.

Another 10,000 have left Iran since a similar programme began there last week.

Ruud Lubbers, head of the UNHCR, said the numbers had surged as reports of harassment of ethnic Pashtuns in northern parts of the country had declined.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami greets UNHCR Ruud Lubber
Ruud Lubbers with President Mohammed Khatami of Iran where thousands fled
Pashtuns formed the bulk of the Islamic extremist Taleban militia, which was ousted last year in the US-led war against terrorism.

While they dominate the south, Pashtuns are in the minority in the north, where human rights groups have reported numerous reprisal attacks by forces that opposed the Taleban.

Mr Lubbers said UN officials had raised the issue with local commanders and the interim government in Kabul.

Mr Lubbers said he was surprised and pleased by the movement of refugees, but the increasing numbers meant they needed donor countries to move quickly from pledges to handing over funds.

UN target

Mr Lubbers said: "There's no way back, we have to build up Afghanistan and motivate the international community to go for a very practical reconstruction project."

A total of nearly three million refugees have been living in Pakistan, about half of them in refugee camps.

The UNHCR needs $25m a month for the repatriation programme if it is going to meet its target of returning 1.2 million people - including 400,000 displaced inside Afghanistan - by the end of 2002, he said.

Mr Lubbers said UN and other relief groups planned to help returning refugees build new homes, dig wells and get started in the country destroyed by 23 years of wars.

See also:

13 Apr 02 | South Asia
UN seeks Afghan refugee boost
10 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghan refugees eager to go home
09 Apr 02 | South Asia
Violence halts Afghan refugee flow
03 Apr 02 | South Asia
New scheme for Afghan repatriation
02 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghan refugees rush home
28 Mar 02 | South Asia
UN to set up Afghan mission
10 Mar 02 | South Asia
New UN scheme for Afghan refugees
07 Nov 01 | South Asia
Iran's refugee tide ebbs
02 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iran refugee camps 'getting worse'
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