After years of living in exile in Pakistan, streams of Afghan refugees return to their homeland as Islamabad continues repatriation efforts. Julie Noce reports.
Rows of Afghans wait in line at a United Nations reception center in the outskirts of Kabul. They're waiting to be repatriated after having lived in exile in Pakistan for decades. Despite fleeing war in their own country, life for Afghans in Pakistan was dire and filled with hardships, with some enduing harassment by police and locals. The police raided our homes, this man said. Afghans in Pakistan used be called "Kabulis"... but then they started calling us "Hindus" because of Afghanistans economic agreements with India. Repatriation has been stepped up recently as Afghan-Indian relations strengthened, and those between Pakistan-India have soured. For those who are making their way home, new challenges await. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DIRECTOR OF THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES (UNHCR) COUNTRY OFFICE IN KABUL, MAYA AMERATUNGA, SAYING: "Of course there are many challenges. These returnees, they're coming back after more than three decades in exile. That means that their grandparents originated from Afghanistan so they don't know Afghanistan as their home country, so it will take a big adjustment for them. They may lack the community links at the moment, so one of the key issues is where will they live? Some people are able to go and live with their relatives, but others may not have that possibility. So unfortunately what we are seeing is people becoming displaced upon return to Afghanistan. That means they may go and live in a spotter settlement somewhere while they try to find a job, which is another challenge." The United Nations provides $400 a person in emergency help as well as medical and other assistance including mine awareness training for people returning to a country awash with unexploded ordnance. But longer term reintegration here- a country many never knew as home- may be even more difficult.