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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 17:08 GMT 18:08 UK
UN urges Afghan return
Afghan refugees in Britain
The UN wants Afghans far and wide to return

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has said it is now encouraging governments to offer help to all Afghans who want to return to their homeland.


We're suggesting we open up the option of voluntary repatriation to all Afghans

Rupert Colville,
UNHCR
The refugee agency said it felt confident that the time was right for repatriation, following improved security and greater political stability in the country.

This is a change of policy for the agency, which has until now warned governments to be wary of voluntary repatriation schemes.

It has also advised them to refrain from making final decisions on asylum claims by Afghans.

But following the appointment of a transitional government by last month's loya jirga assembly, the UNHCR says that Afghanistan has entered a "new political phase" and the time is now "ripe" for Afghans to go home.

Voluntary scheme

UNHCR spokesman Rupert Coleville said governments should fund their own repatriation schemes and make sure they were phased, coordinated and humane.

Afghan refugees crossing the Pakistan border
Many Afghans have already made the journey

He added that while many Afghans would want to return, others may still have genuine claims for asylum and that governments should respect their refugee status.

"We're saying that it doesn't really make sense to have... Afghans return voluntarily from the neighbouring countries and to leave Afghans in the wider world unable to return home as they want to," he said.

"So we're suggesting we open up the option of voluntary repatriation to all Afghans," he added.

Mr Colville said that would include "people not yet in the asylum system, people already in it and even recognized refugees, if they wish to go home."

But he added that the UNHCR was not saying there would no more Afghan refugees.

In the past three years, 150,000 Afghans applied for asylum in about 90 states, not including Iran and Pakistan.

The UNHCR believes many of these would voluntarily withdraw their application for asylum if they could be given assistance to get back home.


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