Local pressure in Pakistan on Afghan refugees to return home concerns UN

27 June 2002

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voiced concern today over the "very serious" pressure to return home that Afghan refugees were facing in Pakistan from local authorities.

Since March, 1.1 million Afghans had returned from Iran and Pakistan under the agency's assistance programme and another 200,000 who had returned on their own, Filippo Grandi, UNHCR's Representative for Afghanistan, told a press conference in Kabul.

"There is a lot of pressure on Afghans to return from Pakistan," Mr. Grandi said, stressing that the demands did not stem from a government policy. "It is local authorities, local police authorities, and even local communities putting pressure in a difficult political and economic situation in Pakistan for people to return. This pressure is mounting and is very serious."

Asked to give examples, Mr. Grandi said some refugees were being arrested, put in jail, and asked for money to get out. That practice, which he said, "has always happened and…happens in many, many countries hosting refugees, including Europe [and other] western countries," was increasing.

UNHCR has brought up the issue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, and has asked him to intercede with local authorities to diminish this pressure.

"We don't think this is a positive development," Mr. Grandi said. "Many people want to return after so many years in exile. If you ask many people that are in encampment centres in Jalalabad or in Kabul or in Kandahar, people will tell you the situation has changed in Afghanistan. We see this as an opportunity to rebuild their lives inside the country."

Meanwhile at a ceremony in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai presented Mr. Brahimi with an Afghan diplomatic passport, which the UN envoy said was "an honour I value more than I can say."

The Special Representative also joked that he was unaware if the UN would allow a national to represent the Secretary-General, but that, now that he had an Afghan passport, he would stand in the next Loya Jirga as a candidate.

Mr. Karzai, who helped to translate Mr. Brahimi's comments, responded humorously: "Your excellency, you will beat me."

 

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