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UNHCR pledges $2.2m for quake victims return

Published Apr 19, 2006 12:00am

ISLAMABAD, April 18: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will provide $2.25 million to International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for facilitating the voluntary return of refugees from relief camps to their hometowns in the quake-hit areas.

According to a statement issued here on Tuesday, an agreement was signed between the two UN bodies under which the support would start from this month and run through August.

IOM Regional Representative Hassan Abdel Moneim Mostafa said the UNHCR funds would contribute to IOM’s UN Action Plan mandate to provide medical screening and transport facilities to quake survivors, especially vulnerable people willing to leave the camps and go home with the onset of spring.

He said: “We have been providing return assistance to displaced people within the constraints of weather, road conditions and funds. This new funding will help us speed up assistance to those who are determined to go back home.”

UNHCR Deputy Representative in Pakistan Michael Zwack said tens of thousands of people had already gone back to their villages.

He said: “We need to sustain the pace of returns, but at the same time, ensure that it is conducted in a voluntary, orderly and safe way.”

The funding will allow IOM to continue providing pre- departure medical screening in camps to ensure that passengers are fit for travel. Special travelling arrangements are made for vulnerable groups like the disabled, the elderly, pregnant women and children. It will also feed into IOM’s movement plan, which optimises orderly transport to areas of origin, based on available data, road reconnaissance and community-based assessments, he said.

Since March 20, five IOM hubs in earthquake-affected areas — Batagram, Bagh, Balakot, Mansehra and Muzaffarabad —- have helped more than 22,000 people (over 3,000 families) to return to their villages and towns.

On April 12, IOM began to offer returns to quake-affected areas from the Sector H-11 camp in Islamabad in response to a request from the Capital Development Authority (CDA). So far, 162 families (872 people) have left the camp with IOM to return home.