Pakistan extends stay of Afghan refugees

Islamabad:Pakistan has extended the stay of nearly 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees until June 30, 2018, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

Pakistan also hosts around 1 million unregistered refugees who are being documented.

The tenure of the stay of the registered refugees, who hold Proof of Registration cards (PoR), was scheduled to expire on March 31, 2018.

“Our policy on Afghan Refugees is focused on dignified return of our Afghan brothers to their homeland. In this spirit, the government extended the validity of PoR Cards until June 30, 2018,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammad Faisal said at his weekly briefing.

“At the same time, we would urge donor countries and aid agencies to make efforts for the resettlement of these returnees by building houses and initiating livelihood projects in Afghanistan,” he added.

He expressed the hope that these efforts will make the process of their return sustainable and facilitate the smooth repatriation of the Afghan refugees in coming days.

The spokesman said the Foreign Ministry is involved in engaging UNHCR and the international community to ensure that the Afghan refugees return to their homeland in a dignified and permanent manner.

“Afghan authorities must create incentivized pull factors for the sustainable absorption of these Afghan refugees into Afghan economy,” he said.

The UN refugee agency lauded Pakistan’s decision to extend the PoR cards to Afghan refugees until June 30 as a temporary relief amid growing uncertainty and anxiety.

UNHCR Representative for Pakistan Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, however, said in a statement the agency remains concerned that the government’s time-frame for voluntary, safe and dignified return “appears limited and that alternative solutions have yet to be progressed.”

She said that while voluntary repatriation is a preferred solution for the majority of Afghan refugees, it needs to be undertaken in a phased manner that supports refugees’ sustainable reintegration back home in Afghanistan.

The UN refugee agency’s voluntary repatriation program for registered Afghan refugees resumed on March 1 after the traditional winter break from December 2017 to February 2018.

Since 2002, around 4.3 million Afghan refugees have voluntarily returned to Afghanistan under the Tripartite Framework and UNHCR-facilitated voluntary repatriation program, according to the UNHCR.