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September 2002, Volume 9, Number 9

South Asia: Afghans

There were four million Afghans outside Afghanistan in the winter of 2001-02, and 1.5 million returned between March and August 2002 in a movement that UNHCR termed "the largest repatriation of people in history." UNHCR says that it is running out of money to resettle the returning Afghans, reducing their return allowance to $20 each, which some say is barely enough to get them from Kabul to their home towns. In addition to UNHCR, many NGOs are assisting returning Afghans, and there are reports of families trying to get resettlement assistance two, three, and four times.

The Iranian government is trying to get unregistered Afghans to return to Afghanistan, and has said that police will arrest them if they are still in the country in September 2002. More than 124,000 Afghans have gone home from Iran since April 2002, when UNHCR and the governments of Iran and Afghanistan started a joint voluntary repatriation program.

The International Organization for Migration operates return of qualified talent programs in many emigration countries, providing travel and living allowances and supplemental pay to persuade nationals of a country to return to assist development. Since December 2001, the IOM says that 248 Afghans have returned, about 40 a month, and that 5,700 Afghan professionals overseas have expressed an interest in the return program.

Pakistan/Sri Lanka. The Pakistani Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment under the Ministry of Labour Manpower and Overseas reported that 13,400 Pakistanis went abroad legally as guest workers in July 2002, compared to 10,300 in July 2001. The Saudi Foreign Ministry told 27 Saudi recruiting companies to pay their dues to the Pakistani BEOA. There are about 800,000 Pakistani migrants in Saudi Arabia; most employed in construction.

The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) reported that 186,000 Sri Lankans went abroad legally for jobs in 2001, 85 percent as domestic workers, and most to Gulf countries.