UN agency, Pakistan set to continue screening programme for Afghan refugee applicants

UN agency, Pakistan set to continue screening programme for Afghan refugee applicants

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The United Nations refugee agency and Pakistan are set to begin the second phase of their joint screening programme to determine the refugee status of thousands of Afghans who have fled to northwest Pakistan in recent months.

"Afghans have responded favourably to the exercise, turning out in big numbers to register and provide general information on their families and places of origin," said Millicent Mutuli, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). During the first phase, over 21,000 families were processed at two screening centres near Peshawar city in northwest Pakistan in less than three weeks.

A total of 14,564 families will go to the next phase of the screening exercise, which starts tomorrow, while 6,465 families have opted for voluntary repatriation, Ms. Mutuli said. Afghans who have registered will be called for interviews to determine their status while those who have expressed the wish to return home will receive an aid package.

Fifty-five teams are on standby to begin interviewing all Afghans who have registered. Those found to be in need of protection will be granted temporary legal status in Pakistan and all those accepted will be transferred to a camp at New Shamshatoo, where they will be provided assistance by UNHCR and its partners, Ms. Mutuli said. Negotiations are continuing between UNHCR and Pakistani authorities to identify further sites.

"Afghans whose cases are rejected will have the right to appeal, but once a final decision is made, they would have to return home," Ms. Mutuli said. "Especially vulnerable people from drought-affected areas would be given a temporary humanitarian stay until conditions improve in their villages."

UNHCR estimates that overall, there are 1.2 million Afghans living in refugee villages in Pakistan.