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Thousands of Afghans seeking refugee status in Pakistan register with UN agency

Thousands of Afghans seeking refugee status in Pakistan register with UN agency

Afghans have been coming forward in increasing numbers to register at two screening centres in northwest Pakistan, which will later determine whether they are granted refugee status or must return home, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

According to UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski, during the past week, thousands have taken part in the first phase of the screening programme, which is expected to determine the refugee status of Afghans who have fled to Pakistan to escape the twin scourges of drought and conflict in their homeland.

More than 5,000 families from two Afghan settlements near Peshawar have been registered in the first week of the exercise, Mr. Janowski said. At the same time, 531 families have opted to return home.

Thirty joint UNHCR/Government of Pakistan teams have been collecting information from heads of families who present themselves according to their respective residential blocks. The number of Afghans participating in the exercise is expected to increase significantly this week when more pre-screeners join the operation, the agency spokesman said. The Afghans provide general information on their families and areas of origin.

Those who express the wish to return to Afghanistan will be given an assistance package consisting of 6,000 rupees and 150 kilogrammes of wheat.

Afghans who opt for the screening process, which is slated to begin in the next few weeks once all the initial family data has been collected, will be interviewed. Those found to be in need of protection will be granted a temporary stay in Pakistan and then shifted to a camp where UNHCR and its partners will provide them with assistance.

"Afghans whose case is rejected will have the right to appeal, but once a final decision is made, they would have to return home," Mr. Janowski said.