Hope and hardship lie before Afghan refugees (Afghanistan)

Kabul, June 21 (Xinhua) 'Although I lived in Pakistan for 18 years, I chose to come back. It is Afghanistan that is my motherland,' 30-year-old Abdullah Majeed said at the Kabul encashment centre for refugees.


Waiting for his turn to be registered Tuesday, the World Refugee Day, Majeed was sitting on the cobble ground at the centre, also called 'temporary transit centre', with several friends behind a colourful truck fully loaded with various items like bikes, chairs, tents, even wood beams and so on.

About 150 to 200 refugees like Majeed arrive at this centre, located in east Kabul, each day in this season. Each refugee receives some $25 there for re-starting their lives. The cash would differ lightly based on their journey distance.

The Kabul centre, among the eight ones across Afghanistan, is the only one in the district. It mainly receives refugees from Pakistan, the war-shattered country's southeastern neighbour.

Zabi Farazi, 24, an energetic Afghan working as a UN employee at the centre, said, 'In the years just after the end of the US-led Afghan war in 2001, about 300 to 400 refugees would come here on a daily basis. Now the number is decreasing.'

The centre is jointly run by UN agencies and the government, but the UN provides nearly all the aid and cash.

Lines of trucks or buses, having carried refugees from Pakistan, are parked in the south of the centre. To the north of the parking lot, there are quite a few tents, small and big.

Refugees are first taught in a tent how to stay away from mines, which are not so frequently seen in Pakistan but exist nearly everywhere in Afghanistan due to decades of war.

Refugees also can get information or legal aid at the centre.

The whole registration and cash-receiving process lasts only a few hours, but some refugees have to sleep in the centre's makeshift houses one night if they arrive late in the afternoon, as the staff would be off duty after 4 p.m.

In the past four years, more than 4.6 million Afghans returned from Pakistan and Iran.

Narder Farhad, a UNHCR officer in Afghanistan, said, 'There were approximately 400,000 to 500,000 returnees in 2005, and we predict about 600,000 would return.'

A substantial number of refugees have returned spontaneously without receiving assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Afghanistan is by far the largest country of origin of refugees around the globe, according to the UNHCR. Over 1.8 million Afghan refugees still live abroad, constituting 23 percent of the total eight million under the UNHCR's mandate.

Pakistan and Iran continue to be the main host countries of Afghan refugees, harbouring a population of 1.7 million, according to the UNHCR.

A sea of Afghans fled their homeland during the Soviet invasion from 1979 to 1989, and the following Afghan civil war and the U.S.-led war against the Taliban.

The theme for this year's refugee day was 'Hope', reflecting the fact that 'even in the face of hardship, refugees continue to hope for a better life,' according to the UNHCR.

Majeed must have kept his 'hope alive'. Before his voluntary repatriation, he had dwelled in Jahangir Abad town in Pakistan' s Peshawar city, only about 40 km east of Afghanistan.

Eighteen years ago, as a 12-year-old child, he fled to Peshawar with his parents. Now he has returned with his wife and three children after a travel of one day and one night.

Majeed, who was a shopkeeper in the Pakistani town, said, 'I had no passport in Pakistan, and sometimes was harassed by local police, although I had never been arrested.

'The political situation has improved greatly in Afghanistan these years, so I decided to return. After all, Afghanistan is my homeland.'

Still there lie a lot of hardships before refugees like Majeed, just as the UN officer Farhad said, 'There are some challenges like lack of shelter and limited job opportunities.' Maybe, there are much more difficulties than those.

However, there is also huge hope for Majeed. 'I would like to find a job first, then send my children to school. They never had the chance to receive education,' Majeed said.

Von: 21.6.2006 www.stararticle.com

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