MABAD Despite the socio-political indicators inferring a mega decline in Afghan refugees return to Afghanistan, the monthly data of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows an unexpected surge in their number.
The Afghan refugees return started last month on March 22 under Tripartite Agreement on Voluntary Repatriation.
The monthly data issued by UNHCR on April 22 shows that 22,000 people have returned back to Afghanistan. Out of them, 18,000 are believed to have gone via Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Peshawar and about 4000 via Quettas VRC.
Contrary to the information that UNHCR provided, TheNation learnt from United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) that the turnout of refugees who showed up for their homeland, as anticipated, was not encouraging. A spokesperson of UNAMA expressed surprise over the data issued by UNHCR Pakistan and termed the return of Afghan refugees in such a huge number particularly in the first month of the refugees return as overwhelmingly surprising. Im sure the UNHCR must have compiled this data very professionally under detailed scrutiny, toil and skilful effort but still I need to confirm from UNAMA if this much number of people have really stepped in here, the spokesperson added.
On Saturdays evening, the same official said that UNAMA was not in position to confirm the exact number of refugees who had arrived in different parts of Afghanistan at this time.
Another diplomat from UNAMA, however, confirmed that the assessments prior to the start of refugees return under Tripartite Agreement on Voluntary Repatriation had indicated that not more than 30,000 refugees were likely to return to Afghanistan this year considering the deteriorating socio-economic and socio-political indicators in the country. Yes thats true that the yearly estimates in 2010 were 20,000 to 30,000 but if 22,000 people have been reported to return in the first month that needs to be double checked, the official added.
On the other hand, Ariane Rummery, Spokesperson UNHCR Pakistan, does not see any loophole in this regard and believes that the figures provided by her organisation are authentic. When contacted on Friday night and subsequently on Saturday, she said that the Afghan refugees return was a voluntary process and the refugees families were at will to decide whether or not to leave for Afghanistan. Theres no predictive formula, its up to the people to decide if they want to go back. Those who return or intend to return have mixed motivations, some people prefer staying here while some prefer to go. Its all about their own priorities that are based on living conditions, cost of living and all that. We cant really predict how many people would be leaving in any given month, theres no specific target, she said.
Regarding the drastic decline in the number of refugees in 2009, Arianne said, Last year was anomaly, there were security challenges and the Voluntary Repatriation Centres were disrupted a number of times. The data that we have issued is authentic, all the paperwork is done in this regard and we stand by these figures, she added.
The Afghan refugees, from March to October, every year, return to Afghanistan under the aforementioned agreement. Last four years data presents massive decline in the number of returnees with 450,000, 364,000, 282,000 and 50,000 Afghan nationals returning to their homeland in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively. Given that the last year was exceptional as it confronted major security challenges that created law and order situation, the data of other two years as well, shows the drastic cuts of 86,000 and 82,000 in refugees number in 2007 and 2008, while this continuous declining trend is likely to prevail for the next couple of years in the wake of launch of NATOs offensive in Southern Afghanistan and challenging security situation in Khost, Paktia, Kunduz, Kandahar and Nangahar, that are Pakhtun-dominated areas and are also the strongholds of Haqqani Network, a leading Taliban faction in Afghanistan against which NATO and ISAF forces have launched military offensive. It also needs to be considered that majority of Afghan returnees for every year is Pakhtuns. Seventy-three percent Pakhtuns returned to the aforementioned Afghan cities last year that are facing law and order situation currently.