Afghan refugees returning at much slower rate than last year – UN
Since the end of April, about 15,000 refugees have been returning every week, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Maki Shinohara, told reporters in Kabul. The agency assisted 65,000 returning from Pakistan and nearly 35,000 from Iran. The total number of returns since the repatriation programme began last year is 1.9 million.By the end of May 2002, there had already been 400,000 returns, and “we are seeing a similar trend in the increase in the rate of returns in spring,” Ms. Shinohara said. Returning refugees say more Afghan families will return if security is improved, especially in the southern provinces, and if there are more job prospects and reconstruction inside Afghanistan.Meanwhile, UN agencies went back to work yesterday in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif after weekend factional fighting, during which the top local security liaison official for the UN system there was killed. Although tension in the city appeared to be significantly reduced, there were two reports on Tuesday night of rounds of gunfire.The Mazar Multi-party Security Commission was holding talks to curb instability. On Monday a Commission delegation with the support of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) verified the withdrawal of unauthorized troops from the city.“This exercise was difficult, there was not a lot of cooperation and it was in particularly difficult to identify unofficial military posts,” UNAMA spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told reporters. “This situation reconfirmed the urgent need to establish a neutral police force in Mazar and strengthen its ability to provide security to the population.”The two commanders from the Wahdat Mohaqiq and Jamiat factions blamed for the weekend incidents were handed over to Mazar police custody on Monday after several hours of negotiation to ensure their safety and security while in prison.Mr. de Almeida e Silva also confirmed that the suspension of de-mining activities by the UN Mine Action Centre in Afghanistan (UNMACA) following recent attacks on personnel in the southwest and southeast covered 10 provinces.