Saturday, November 24, 2001

GENEVA (Agence France-Presse) The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said yesterday it has started a program aimed at encouraging the return of thousands of educated and highly qualified Afghans back to their devastated homeland.

IOM Director-General Brunson McKinley said the return of professional and qualified people was a priority for helping to get Afghan society back on its feet.

“I am quite encouraged by the response we have seen already to this idea of the return of qualified, trained Afghans,” said Mr. McKinley, who had just returned from a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan and Iran.

“It will take some work, but I think it can get going pretty fast,” he told a news briefing.

IOM already has a databank with the names of about 1,500 educated professionals living abroad, and efforts are under way to register more, he said.

“I had a meeting with a group of representatives of Afghan communities in Europe and they offered us the use of their contact list, which contains another 3,000,” he said. “We will also have enhanced programs to assist them in their returns.”

Many Afghans have been abroad for more than 20 years, he noted, settling as far afield as the United States.

IOM plans to help returnees, as it has in other countries, by providing job placements, supplementing salaries and offering guarantees that they can return to the country where they have settled, Mr. McKinley said.

But for the return en masse of the millions of Afghan refugees who have fled the country because of fighting and drought, IOM expects most of them to start going back next spring.

“I am pleased with what I saw in Herat those couple of hundreds of thousands of people who are under our care in the Herat area, they are going to make it through the winter,” he told reporters.

“I came back convinced that rather rapidly conditions are coming into place, which will allow us to really turn the page and start with the task of restoring Afghanistan to a decent, peaceful, possible way of life,” he said.

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