KABUL, Aug 17: Around 390,000 Afghan refugees have returned home from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran with United Nations assistance so far this year, a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokeswoman said on Sunday.

“The number of assisted returns to Afghanistan this year stands at around 390,000 ...of this number more than a quarter of a million have repatriated from Pakistan and 136,000 from Iran, including some 55,000 who have returned on their own from Iran,” Maki Shinohara told reporters.

While the rate of returns had dropped from around 20,000 a week in June, more than 10,000 refugees were still returning to Afghanistan every week.

Mr Shinohara said the fall in the return of refugees was seasonal rather than due to security concerns.

“Despite security concerns in particular parts of Afghanistan we still do continue to assist those people who are returning on their own back to their home country,” she said.

During the first half of the year 45 per cent of returning refugees headed to their homes in central Afghanistan, with Kabul province receiving around 36 per cent of all returnees, the spokeswoman said.

Afghanistan’s troubled southern and southeastern regions received among the lowest number of returns, with around four per cent and two per cent, respectively, of the number of refugees returning to those areas.

The UNHCR last week suspended work in northeastern Kunar province after a rocket landed near its office in a weekend attack. There were no casualties.

The UN had already suspended road missions across much of southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces because of attacks.

This year’s returns are well below those last year’s when more than 1.8 million refugees returned home with UN assistance, with more than 20,000 people a day returning in May 2002. Others made their own way home.

Amnesty International in June warned that the “deteriorating” security situation in Afghanistan was not conducive to promoting voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Taliban remnants continue to launch regular attacks in the south and southeast, with dozens killed in attacks and a bus bombing last week, while factional fighting has claimed dozens of lives in the north.

Pakistan and Iran still host millions of Afghan refugees who fled war and famine in their home country over the past two decades.—AFP

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