The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said Wednesday in Kabul that the UNHCR was committed to creating conditions conducive to sustainable repatriation of Afghans still in Pakistan and Iran.
On a two-day visit to the country to review UNHCR's operation in Afghanistan, Guterres' visit largely hinged on discussions with senior government officials over long-term solutions to the Afghan refugee situation in the region. He also addressed key issues for returnees to better ensure their successful reintegration, access to shelter, livelihood opportunities and socio-economic prospects.
Addressing the press Wednesday afternoon, Guterres said that an agreement has been reached between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UNHCR to provide an enhanced package of support to those returning under the voluntary return refugee program.
He said that the government was preparing two key proposals that would act as guidelines and that government had informed him that a revision of the current process was being carried out and that integrated strategies would be implemented.
He said once these strategies were in place the government and UNHCR could approach the international community to seek donor support.
This was in line with easing the way for refugees to return. He said this would not only include government allocating 'safe' areas for return refugees to live in but also help reintegrate them into society.
But he emphasized that "the process of returning refugees will be strictly voluntary".
"The problem now is that we haven't got proper organizations for the reintegration of those returning," he said.
The key to succeeding was to "create conditions for sustainable repatriation of the Afghans still remaining in Pakistan and Iran."
"But I am excited today because I see the Afghanistan government is taking the lead .... Nothing was organized in the past but now the government is putting measures in to place."
He said one of the biggest refugee problems ever experienced in the world was that of Afghanistan. Millions of people fled the conflict but in the past decade, over five million have returned voluntarily.
He also expressed his gratitude to Afghanistan for having opened its borders to victims fleeing the conflict in Waziristan. : "It is very reassuring to see a country with so many problems such as Afghanistan being able to express solidarity to all those fleeing the conflict and seeking the protection of the Afghanistan government."
The UNHCR said in a statement earlier that aside from reviewing UNHCR's operation in the country, the main purpose of Guterres' visit to Afghanistan was to discuss with senior government officials long-term solutions to the Afghan refugee situation in the region.
UNHCR is also involved in coordinating emergency response to Internally Displaced Afghans and co-chairs the IDP Task Force.
This is Guterres' first visit to Afghanistan this year, but he has visited the country on several occasions since taking up office in June 2005.