UN agency shelters hundreds of returning refugees in northern Afghan wastelands

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is scaling up efforts to expand a temporary tented camp in a barren and arid region of northern Afghanistan as the total number of returnees is expected to climb to more than 1,500 in the coming weeks. The influx of repatriated Afghan refugees – mostly nomadic Kuchi people of Baloch ethnicity who fled the country during the period of Soviet occupation between 1979 and 1989 – are returning from a camp in south-east Iran to the Sozma Qala district to find their homes were destroyed by armed conflict or collapsed after years of neglect. “Returning to this remote and desolate place, they are defying nature with their tireless determination to start anew,” said Aurvasi Patel, head of the UNHCR office in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, adding that with “winter fast approaching, [the] reintegration of these families will be a major challenge.” Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR interim Deputy Representative in Afghanistan, also underscored the difficulties of setting up a transit camp and providing basic water, education and health services in such a desolate area. “The settlement is a temporary solution to allow people to have a shelter while they are rebuilding their homes in nearby villages,” stressed Ms. Morelli. 3 September 2009The United Nations refugee agency has started providing shelter to hundreds of Afghans who have recently returned from Iran to their homeland, more than two decades after they fled during the Soviet Union’s occupation of the country in the 1980s. read more