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Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
Cash offer 'puts Afghans at risk'
An Afghan family returning from Pakistan to Afghanistan
Thousands of families have been returning
Afghan asylum seekers who accept a government offer of up to 2,500 ($3,800) to return home are risking their safety, according to the Refugee Council.

Those who go home by choice, rather than being deported, will qualify for the grants under a new "voluntary assisted returns" package.

The scheme, due to start shortly, follows a ruling that Afghanistan is now safe enough to return failed asylum seekers for the first time in seven years, following the fall of the Taleban regime.

But parts of Afghanistan remain "quite unsafe", according to the Refugee Council's international section head Julia Purcell.


No-one is going to want to return with their family until they can be assured they can live there safely

The Refugee Council's international section head Julia Purcell

The government is sending complementary aid packages and assistance, she told BBC News.

But Ms Purcell added: "It takes a long time to restore a country after a period of conflict."

And she concluded: "No-one is going to want to return with their family until they can be assured they can live there safely."

Cheaper

The scheme is expected to attract 1,000 applicants and the Home Office has set aside 800,000 to fund it. Single people will get 600 and families up to 2,500 under the six-month trial.

Farid and Feriba Ahmadi
It cost thousands to forcibly expel the Ahmadi family
The money - to be paid after the applicants have left the country - will be on top of the cost of flights. It is aimed at those who are awaiting decisions or appealing them, or who have been granted exceptional leave to remain.

The scheme is backed by the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration, the Afghan embassy and Afghan communities in the UK.

The number of people wishing to return to Afghanistan is "quite high", according to Simon Taylor of the UNHCR in London.

"Many people are going back," he told BBC News.

"The situation is improving and is an enormous amount better than it was a few months ago."

But he added: "If anybody wishes to stay here and pursue an asylum claim, they should have the right to do so."


600 is not going to induce them to move if they have paid one or two thousand to get here

University College London emeritus economics professor Nigel Harris

The International Organisation for Migration is trying to encourage professional Afghans to return to rebuild the country.

But its return of qualified Afghans scheme programme officer Bosnian Ahmed Dizdarevic says 2,500 is not enough.

Renting even a small flat could cost several thousand dollars a month, he told BBC News.

"Rents are sky-rocketing every day because so many people are coming back to the country."

University College London emeritus economics professor Nigel Harris called the sums offered "trivial".

He told BBC News: "600 is not going to induce them to move if they have paid one or two thousand to get here."

But Home Office minister Beverley Hughes said helping people to return voluntarily was significantly cheaper than supporting them while their asylum claim was considered and then enforcing their return if their asylum claim was rejected.

Last week the Home Office spent an estimated 30,000 chartering a jet to deport an Afghan family - Farid Ahmadi, wife Feriba and their two young children - who had exhausted their legal fight to stay in Britain.

Afghanistan 'stable'

Afghanistan provides the most asylum seekers coming to Britain each year, according to government figures.

During 2001, 9,000 Afghans applied for asylum, up from 5,555 the year before - but figures are actually higher as they exclude dependants such as spouses or children.

About 2,260 were granted asylum and 7,370, including some from a backlog from the previous year, were granted "exceptional leave to remain".

Last month the Home Office announced that Afghans would no longer win automatic "exceptional leave" because the political situation in Afghanistan had stabilised post-11 September.

A similar initiative operates for several other groups of asylum seekers, including people from Kosovo who fled the Balkan conflict.

Ahmadi appeal

In a separate development, campaigners are attempting a fresh High Court challenge to return to the UK an Afghan family deported to Germany.

Farid and Feriba Ahmadi and their two children lost their battle to stay in the UK last week.

They had been at the centre of a high-profile case after police broke into a West Midlands mosque to arrest them.

Campaigners say ministers deported the Ahmadis on the wrong grounds because they do not have any current rights to stay in Germany. An application for a full hearing goes before the High Court in London on Friday morning.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sangita Myska
"The government says it's safe for many families to return to Afghanistan"
Joel Charny, Refugees International
"To abandon one's life in England is certainly a lot to ask of Aghani refugees"

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19 Aug 02 | England
14 Aug 02 | UK
11 Jul 02 | Politics
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