Yes, the refugees should return home. In principle. But in practice? Then it all becomes more complicated, especially if the refugees have stayed, for say, more than five to six years. The Afghan refugees in Pakistan have stayed for several decades. Some were born and bred in here. They know Afghanistan from the stories told by parents and relatives, and from short visits home. But they have never lived there and they would hardly be able to live there either, unless they get a good job with an NGO or the UN, well, provided they had the qualifications for that. Alas, very few Afghan refugees have such qualifications. And then most of them stay on. In 2010, well over 100,000 Afghans did return - double of the number for the previous year - according to the figures from the United Nations Refugee Agency - UNHCR. They received a token of repatriation assistance, some advice, and some money for travel and getting settled in at what they will then call home. In 2009, only a few percent of the returnees had gone to school at all, and a handful had secondary education or more. It is not likely that the percentages have increased, knowing how little 'real understanding and funds UNHCR has for it. What a disgrace, happening on the watch of UNHCR and under the nose of the local and international donors, and the Pakistan government. And dont say that the money went for the flood victims because to provide education for the refugees takes a bit longer than half a year, which is the time since the tragic floods. Tens of thousands of refugees were also affected by the floods, mainly in Khyber Paktunkhwa. Since the large voluntary repatriation started after 9/11, notably from spring 2002, about four million have returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan, and another several million from other countries, mainly Iran, which was sometime an even larger host country than Pakistan, but being boycotted by the international communitys help. That means that some seven to eight million refugees have returned. The UNHCR does what it can, as it claims, but I always think it is too little. Often the professional understanding of issues lags behind, especially in education, which is my field of specialisation. The UNESCO and the UNICEF - the two UN agencies with education as part of their mandates - talk more than they act. To talk is also important, but that would mean, advice UNHCR and the government about what to do. Nice reports, brochures and websites dont help the poor refugees much, but maybe they help the staff to gain respect from colleagues and promotion from bosses? The refugees should go home and they do go home. But some should not go home. And then I am talking from a social and humanitarian perspective, not from the perspective of a local or international civil servant, who needs his statistics in order for the superiors to see. We should be careful when painting a rosy picture about the refugees home country and dreaming up the unrealistic plans about returning, and what to do at home. The first group, who should think twice before going, is the young. The second group is the old, who have stayed away for decades. Both groups need special support to make it if they return. Many Afghans in Pakistan have received good primary education, although only five or six years of education, not eight years as is the rule according to UNHCRs own guidelines. But then in Pakistan, the primary school is only five or six years for the nationals of the country, so then we have gotten away with the same for the refugees. At best, Pakistan provided primary school to 60 percent of the refugees in the camps, and well over a third of the pupils were girls, much better than it would have been at home in Afghanistan, during all the three decades from 1979 when the Afghans sought refuge abroad. Yet, I would have liked to see education for every Afghan child in the camps, and also in the cities. The latter group is always said to fall outside UNHCRs immediate responsibility, in spite of actually having constituted more than 50 percent of all refugees. Secondary school reached few and university just a handful. However, those who went through all of it are an asset anywhere, either they stay on in Pakistan or return to Afghanistan. The old refugees are in many cases the forgotten heroes. In the West, they would have received pensions, special housing, free medical services, and so on. Not so in our part of the world. Most of the elderly should be advised not to return home because that will be a great strain on their physical and mental health. Many will not even be able to buy the medicines and health services that all old people will need, sooner or later. But the relatively young and middle-aged, with small children, should they not go home? Yes, if they have a place to stay, a land to cultivate, where there are no landmines and without neighbours claiming their land - and without the foreign military forces fighting in their towns and mountains of destination. Unfortunately, many returnees end up in slums in Kabul and some other major cities, more destitute and miserable than in a refugee camp or urban slum in Pakistan. Pakistan recently agreed to extend the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards of the Afghan refugees to the end of 2012. The tripartite agreement between UNHCR, Pakistan and Afghanistan also runs for another two years to guarantee and maintain the voluntary nature of the ongoing repatriation of the Afghans in line with the security situation and capacity of Afghanistan to absorb the returning refugees. Recently, UNHCR took the initiative to finance a study to consider the benefits that Pakistan has had of the Afghan refugees. That is indeed a very welcome action since refugees can otherwise so easily be see as a burden only on the host country. We easily forget that many refugees are only at the receiving end when they have just arrived, and that many become productive members of the host countrys society after some time. Unfortunately, in Pakistan refugees are generally not given work permit, only residence permit, squeezing them to earn some money mostly in the informal sector or, by obtaining false identity cards, and whatever other way possible. In host countries in the West, such as my home country of Norway, refugees are given special 'positive discrimination, so that they get into the labour market quickly to ease their difficult life, learn the language and otherwise take part in society, even if they are supposed to stay temporarily. Yet, in practice, few refugees, who have made it to the West, will ever return home to Afghanistan. Can you blame them? And even if they could go, was that right vis--vis the young members of their families? Probably, not The purpose of my article today was to draw attention to a few aspects of the life of Afghan refugees. We must behave in a humane way, and we must not draw conclusions and advocate opinions without knowing well what we talk about. Many poor Pakistanis know more about the Afghan refugees difficulties than the educated middle-class city dwellers. The refugees are people, too, just like the rest of us. And, whose fault was it that they had to seek refuge abroad? Rarely, the refugees themselves. It was mostly caused by the superpowers. When the elephant fights, the grass suffers, an old saying goes. The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist based in Islamabad.