Saga of Afghan refugees in Pakistan nears closure under UN-backed accord

21 April 2006

A top United Nations refugee official today ended a six-day visit to Pakistan, during which a breakthrough agreement was signed with the government that will help close the chapter on the millions of Afghans who fled there from their homeland during two and a half decades of war and factional fighting.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding, whose signing UN Deputy High Commissioner Refugees (UNHCR) Wendy Chamberlin witnessed on Wednesday, Afghans counted in the 2005 Pakistani census will be able to be registered at an individual level later this year.

The data collected will allow both the Pakistani and Afghan governments to develop policies for voluntary repatriation and manage the future of this population. The $6-million exercise will be conducted by Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).

UNHCR resumed the fifth and final year of its voluntary return operation to Afghanistan last month after a break over winter, and it has been negotiating with the two governments on new arrangements beyond 2006, possibly shifting from individual travel assistance to area-based reintegration assistance.

Since 2002, more than 2.7 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan. Some 2.6 million are believed to remain in the country. Not all may wish to return home. UNHCR has also assisted returns from Iran, from where 1.3 million Afghans have repatriated. Some 900,000 Afghans are still estimated to be in Iran.

During her six-day visit, Ms. Chamberlin met with top government officials, including President President Pervez Musharraf, as well as with major donors and partner agencies in both the refugee operations and those connected to last October’s earthquake.

She travelled to Muzaffarabad, where she saw the devastation first hand, touring two relief camps and assuring survivors of UNHCR’ continued support.

Six months on, with the emergency phase of the operation coming to an end and Pakistan authorities announcing that relief camps will start closing, quake survivors have begun returning home. Over 80,000 camp dwellers have already gone back to rebuild their homes in the last month, including more than 25,000 from Muzaffarabad alone.


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