UNHCR suspends screening of Afghans following deportations from Pakistan

UNHCR suspends screening of Afghans following deportations from Pakistan

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today announced the suspension of its screening programme for Afghans living in Pakistan after the country's authorities deported 28 families.

"UNHCR finds the Pakistani authorities' decision to deport 132 people to Afghanistan on Tuesday unfortunate and regrettable, and has temporarily suspended the Afghan screening process," agency spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva. He said the authorities acted in "clear breach" of an agreement between UNHCR and the Pakistani Government specifying that there would be no deportations from the affected areas during the screening process.

While UNHCR has suspended the screening operation pending assurances from the Pakistani authorities that no more deportations will take place, Mr. Redmond said agency officials "expect to meet with the Government later today and hope that the screening can resume on Monday."

Among those deported were many elderly people, women, children and infants who had been living in the Jalozai camp in Pakistan where they would have been part of the screening exercise, according to UNHCR. Members of the minority Tajik ethnic group, the families are originally from Sar-i-pul in Sanjcharak in northern Afghanistan, an area currently in conflict.

Mr. Redmond painted a bleak picture of the condition of the deportees, who were met by UNHCR representatives in the Afghan city of Jalalabad yesterday. "Some of the people are malnourished and a number are sick," he said, noting that there were several unaccompanied children in the group. The families, he added, "do not have the resources to go back to their homes or move elsewhere."

Over 100,000 Afghans have been pre-screened since the process started on 6 August. "UNHCR and Pakistani joint screening teams had developed a very good working relationship and the process had been going smoothly," said Mr. Redmond. "In light of this positive cooperation, the deportations are all the more regrettable and incomprehensible."