With the Government of Pakistan's August 31 deadline for closure of refugee camps fast-approaching, the number of Afghans requesting help to repatriate from tribal agencies in Kurram and Bajaur has risen sharply, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
The Government has given the 100,000 Afghans living in refugee camps in the two areas along the border with Afghanistan the choice of going home under the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voluntary repatriation programme or relocating to places it will designate elsewhere inside Pakistan.
The closures, which will complete the closing of all refugee camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas that began in 2004, was ordered by the Government on security grounds, UNHCR says. The army has been trying to tighten control in the border region, where tribal fighters are accused of infiltrating Afghanistan to battle the Kabul Government.
UNHCR has endorsed the decision both because security concerns in the area have obstructed the provision of assistance to refugees and because the Government is preserving the opportunity for asylum by giving Afghans a choice of repatriating or relocating inside Pakistan.
With it now clear that the camp closures will take place on August 31 as originally ordered, large numbers of Afghans in Bajaur have requested UNHCR assistance to repatriate. While only 400 had departed by yesterday, some 3,331 have registered with UNHCR to repatriate in the following days.
By yesterday, 13,000 Afghans in Kurram had gone through all the UNHCR procedures to receive repatriation assistance – including taking an iris recognition test to ensure they had not previously received return aid – and departed for Afghanistan. Some 30,000 Afghans have registered so far in Kurram to return.
Pakistan’s Government has also ordered Afghans to leave the I-11 slum area of the capital, Islamabad, by September 10. A previous order issued in 2004 was extended for a year at the request of the Government of Afghanistan.
UNHCR has assisted more than 2.5 million Afghans to repatriate from Pakistan since 2002.