x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

UN calls for aid to resettle Afghan refugees at home

A United Nations official has urged the UAE to provide assistance to refugees from Afghanistan who are returning to their country.

ABU DHABI // A visiting United Nations representative is calling on the UAE to support tens of thousands of Afghani asylum-seekers who are voluntarily returning to their country from refugee camps in Pakistan.

Neill Wright, the Pakistan representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the Government and Emirati aid agencies could help to "close the chapter" on the world's largest and longest-standing refugee situation.

Mr Wright said education, health care and basic amenities in Afghanistan's villages desperately needed investment.

"The strategy is all about investing in village-level development activities in Afghanistan, so when they get back they can stay integrated and become part of the population that builds the future of Afghanistan," he said, ahead of the World Refugee Day on June 20.

Mr Wright met representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and relief agencies during his five-day trip, which ends today.

His visit follows an international conference last month in Geneva on a strategy to help Afghan refugees.

The UNHCR says an estimated 1.7 million asylum-seekers are living in Pakistan and more than a million in Iran. Those in Pakistan are the largest group of refugees in the world.

More than 5.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since 2002.

In the past five months, more than 22,000 people from 4,225 families have returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

The UNHCR says the Emirates can help by investing in health care, education and employment opportunities, and assisting Pakistanis who have been living alongside Afghan refugees for decades, as "they have seen a deterioration in their standard of living".

"From the perspective of these generous asylum countries there is a need to turn the corner, to close the chapter, to give these needy individuals an opportunity to find a solution back in their own countries," Mr Wright said.

The UNHCR said the UAE was already helping needy Pakistanis but more needed to be done.

"The UAE has been very active. There is a huge UAE-Pakistan assistance programme," Mr Wright said.

"They [the Government] are investing bilaterally on those needs with new bridges, new schools … but it is important to focus on the micro as well as the macro-development projects."

In 2010, the Government and aid agencies gave more than Dh80 million to Afghanistan, and have committed another Dh753.3m over the coming years.

Pakistan was one of the largest recipients of UAE aid, and received Dh310m in 2010.

Of this, Dh258.4m went towards victims of the 2010 floods.

pkannan@thenational.ae