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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 12:39 GMT
Afghan refugees flood home
Afghan woman and children in Dashti-Arzana refugee camp near Mazar
Some people have been in the camps for years
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By Catherine Davis
BBC correspondent in northern Afghanistan
line

The largest, single, organised return of displaced Afghans to their villages is under way in northern Afghanistan.

Over 2,500 families are going back to their homes in the Alborz mountains on Tuesday. Others will return on Wednesday.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which is co-ordinating the return, says the total number of families moved will be around 3,000.

One hundred and fifty trucks are being used to take them from Camp 65, near Mazar-e-Sharif, to their villages which they left because of drought.

Since early morning, people here have been packing up their few belongings, and awaiting their turn to be taken home.

All around me are piles of sacks, blankets, mattresses, water cans.

Some families are taking the doors and timbers from the shelters they constructed here.

Heavily-laden donkeys weave their way through the crowd.

It is noisy, but despite the large number of people on the move, the process is calm and organised.

Community projects

These people are delighted to be going home. Many have been here several years.

As aid workers call out the name of a village, families move forward with their belongings and start loading them into trucks.

Afghan woman and child in Dashti-Arzana refugee camp near Mazar
Returnees will receive food for three months
Piled high, the trucks leave to start the drive up the mountain.

It is a four-hour walk from this camp to the villages of Alborz, not far away, and that is why aid agencies are anxious to ensure those returning stay in their homes, and do not try to come back here for a second chance of assistance.

Once back in their village, the returnees will be given a three-month ration of food, as well as non-food items like blankets.

The priority will be to plant wheat as soon as possible.

Community projects are already underway to help those returning re-integrate, and to ease tensions with the villagers who did not leave.

Above all, the aim is to ensure that this massive return of people home is sustainable.

See also:

05 Dec 01 | South Asia
UN pleas for Afghan refugees
04 Dec 01 | South Asia
Refugees trapped in no man's land
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan aid delivery 'unsafe'
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan renewal 'will come from within'
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's huge rebuilding task
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