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UN agency and Pakistan sign landmark agreement on Afghan refugees

UN agency and Pakistan sign landmark agreement on Afghan refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Government of Pakistan today signed a landmark agreement to establish a joint screening process for Afghans who have fled to Pakistan to escape drought and conflict in their homeland.

According to the UN Information Centre in Islamabad, the new agreement will allow Afghans in need of protection and assistance to temporarily stay in Pakistan.

"It is a major breakthrough and a significant step forward that will ensure the proper protection of all those Afghans who deserve it," said UNHCR Representative in Pakistan, Hasim Utkan.

UN Resident Coordinator Onder Yucer confirmed the full support of the UN Country Team to the agreement and said he hoped it would facilitate assistance to the refugees.

Under the new accord, 30 joint UNHCR/Pakistan teams will begin the screening of Afghans in Jalozai and Nasir Bagh in the North-West Frontier Province. Within three weeks, the teams will be increased to 55 and will eventually also cover the new Shamshatoo refugee camp. An estimated 180,000 Afghans live in the three refugee settlements.

Those Afghans who are found to be in need of protection will be allowed to stay in Pakistan and be relocated to settlements specified by the authorities, as well as receive assistance from UNHCR and its partners. Those whose cases are rejected would have the right to appeal. However, once a final decision is made, they would have to return home, according to the agreement.

The UN agency has urged the authorities to treat those screened out in accordance with international human rights standards and allow for the phased return of vulnerable Afghans. The agreement would allow UNHCR to strengthen the protection it provides to Afghan refugees in Pakistan and permit both the agency and the Government of Pakistan to better assist Afghan refugees while also ensuring that humanitarian crises like that at the Jalozai site are avoided.

Pakistan hosts 2 million Afghan refugees, of whom 1.2 million live in 203 villages grouped into 127 clusters - 105 in the North-West Frontier Province, 21 in Baluchistan and 1 in Punjab.