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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 18:56 GMT
Afghanistan refugees to go home
Refugee children in the Russian embassy, Kabul
The Taleban refused to let the refugees have any assistance
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By Susannah Price
BBC correspondent in Kabul
line

Thousands of internally displaced Afghans, whose villages were destroyed by the Taleban, are about to return home.

The families have been living in what have been described as appalling conditions in the former Soviet embassy compound in Kabul for more than two years.

In all, nearly 16,000 Afghans have been there ever since Taleban fighters overran their villages across the Shimali Plains, two hours drive north of Kabul.

The Islamic militia burnt houses, cut down orchards and vandalised irrigation systems.

But starting on Wednesday, the United Nations refugee agency will helping them return home and rebuild their lives.

Persecution

The villagers came from the minority Tajik ethnic group, which was mainly associated with the opposition Northern Alliance.

Many of those who fled the area ended up at the former Soviet embassy in Kabul.

But the Taleban would not allow them to receive any assistance and aid workers said conditions there had been appalling.

Almost all of these displaced now want to return home.

The returnees will be given plastic sheeting, clothing, seeds and wheat.

They will also be given material to rebuild homes, including beams, doors and windows.

UNHCR spokesman Yusuf Hassan, who recently visited the Shimali area, said it was difficult to imagine the scale of the destruction wrought by the Taleban's scorched-earth policy.

The agency plans to move all those who want to return home within the next two weeks.

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The BBC's Susannah Price
"The villagers came from the minority ethnic group the Tajiks"
See also:

05 Mar 02 | South Asia
Relief gears up after Afghan quake
15 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Tragic lessons of India's quake
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