Tribune News Service
New Delhi, January 8 For the first time in 20 years, Afghan refugees in India have evinced interest in returning to Afghanistan.
The changing political conditions in Afghanistan have encouraged 80 Hindu and Sikh Afghan refugees to opt for voluntary repatriation since April 2002. The Ariana Airlines direct flight between India and Afghanistan was resumed in March 2002.
According to an UNHCR brief, 11,629 Afghan refugees are registered in India. Nearly 80 per cent of these are of Indian origin (Hindus and Sikhs). Afghan refugees first came to India in the early 80s following the erstwhile Soviet Union intervention in Afghanistan. Most of the refugees came when the Najibullah regime fell in 1992.
According to the UNHCR website: “Within months, Afghanistan has gone from being the source of one of the world’s largest refugee populations to its biggest repatriation and reintegration operation breaking new records along with throwing up fresh challenges to the relief community and its own leaders.’’
The thought of rebuilding their houses by accepting the long term solution offered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) seems to have prompted the resilient refugees to start life afresh in the comfort of their own hearth and homes. As Nayana Bose, Associate External Relations Officer, UNHCR observes: “Afghan refugees have been in India since 1981. The option of return was never there. This is the first time in the last twenty years that Afghan refuges have had a sustained interest in going back to Afghanistan. The numbers are noteworthy globally. It could be the beginning of a trend.”
Sources in the UNHCR told TNS that during the past three-and-a-half years, they had received maximum number of requests for repatriation in 2002.