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    MORE AFGHAN REFUGEES TO LEAVE PAKISTAN FOR HOME

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    ISLAMABAD, March 2, 2004. (RIA Novosti correspondent Vladimir Shreter) - A campaign to encourage more of the displaced Afghanis to return home has got underway in Pakistan Tuesday, reports Jack Redden, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

    The United Nations' Geneva headquarters set the campaign for March 2 despite the holy day of Ashurah, when the Shiite community commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Husain (grandson of the Prophet Mohammed), slaughtered by the ruler Yazid in AD 680.

    The UN has arranged for more than 1.9 million Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan in the two-and-a-half years that have passed since the fall of the Taliban regime. It expects that another 400,000 will be repatriated by the end of this year.

    Under a trilateral agreement signed by the UN with the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees shall continue for two more years, meaning that Islamabad may not force displaced Afghanis out during this period of time. Most of the Afghanis, otherwise known as Pushtu, live not in Afghanistan proper, but in a northwestern Pakistani border province, with the capital in Peshawar. The province's Afghani population tops 300 million.

    According to UNHCR statistics, up to 1.1 million Afghani nationals are still staying in Pakistan's two hundred refugee camps. About the same number have blended in with the country's native population, mainly in large cities.

    According to Mr. Redden, the UNHCR provides outgoing Afghani refugees with papers entitling them to a monetary compensation back home. The compensation covers travel expenses and foodstuff costs.

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