United Nations, Apr 13 (PTI) Armed conflict in Afghanistan has killed 763 civilians and injured 1,495 in the first three months of this year, according to the United Nations Mission in the war-torn country.

“All parties to the conflict in Afghanistan must do everything in their power to protect civilians from harm, said Ingrid Hayden, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.

“Afghan civilians continue to suffer, caught in the conflict, in ways that are preventable; this must stop now.” The 2,258 civilian casualties, documented from January 1 to March 31 by the UN Assistance Mission in the country, known as UNAMA, are at the similar levels recorded in the first three months of 2017 and 2016.

Anti-government elements caused 1,500 civilian casualties, up six per cent from the same period last year.

It said suicide improvised explosive devices (IED) and complex attacks were the leading cause of civilian casualties a new trend.

The Mission found that combats on the ground were the second leading cause, followed by targeted and deliberate killings, explosive remnants of war, and aerial operations.

Further, in 2017, about 58,000 Afghan refugees voluntarily returned to their country after decades aboard only to be met with protection risks and “significant” barriers to long-term reintegration into society, two United Nations agencies working in the Asian country reported.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that despite efforts to support those coming back, the greatest challenge lies in a comprehensive, community-wide response that leaves no one behind.

“In spite of the inherent challenges of returning home after many decades abroad, IOM and UNHCR are working hand in hand to ensure sustainable solutions are provided to returning Afghans,” said Laurence Hart, the head of IOM operations in the country.

“(We) work together to complement each other’s efforts in areas of high return, with partners and the Government, for greater efficiency and to ensure support to those communities to mitigate protection risks,” added Fathiaa Abdalla, the head of the UNHCR office in Afghanistan.

Each year, registered Afghan refugees and undocumented Afghans make the decision to return home from Iran and Pakistan, in spite of the difficult situation in Afghanistan.

Since 2002, more than 5.24 million registered Afghan refugees have returned more than 58,000 in 2017, according to a new, first of its kind, joint IOM-UNHCR report.

“Given the scope of the ongoing conflict, high levels of internal displacement, already overstretched services and difficulty finding jobs, returning Afghans face protection risks and significant barriers to sustainable reintegration, said the two UN agencies.

UNHCR and IOM have been collaborating closely in the country to assist the returning refugees and undocumented migrants. Together with the government, they have also been actively coordinating the provision of humanitarian post-arrival and reintegration assistance.

With estimates that 280,000 registered refugees and 420,000 undocumented Afghans expected to return in 2018, the two agencies are harmonising their operations, in particular related to monitoring, reporting and analysis and developing key indicators for displacement and mobility tracking.

These estimates depend on a number of factors, including the situation in places of return as well as countries where the refugees and undocumented persons are staying in, the UN said.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.