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Camps in Pakistan housing more than 230,000 Afghan refugees to be closed – UN

Camps in Pakistan housing more than 230,000 Afghan refugees to be closed – UN

Citing security and development concerns, the United Nations refugee agency, Pakistan and Afghanistan have made plans to close four camps, accommodating more than 230,000 Afghan refugees, by the end of this summer, while providing residents with repatriation and relocation options.

“We understand that security near the border is a top priority and stress that refugee camps must retain their civilian nature,” said Guenet Guebre Christos, the representative in Pakistan for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “At the same time, the authorities should recognize genuine humanitarian needs, as they have done in the last 30 years, and offer options to Afghans affected by camp closure.”

Under the new arrangement, which was agreed upon at the 12th Tripartite Commission meeting among Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, those residing in the camps located in Pakistani border provinces scheduled for closure this year will be offered two options: voluntary repatriation with UNHCR assistance, or relocation to other camps in Pakistan for those who cannot return to Afghanistan immediately.

“We see Afghans who are repatriating from Pakistan as our goodwill ambassadors and I assure you that the government of Pakistan will try to maintain the goodwill,” Pakistan’s Minister of States and Frontier Regions Sardar Yar Muhammed Rind, who oversees refugee issues, told reporters.

According to Mr. Rind, more than 2 million Afghan refugees have registered with the Pakistani Government and have been given Proof of Registration cards.

Following the agreement, refugees with these cards will receive an enhanced reintegration package of $60, double the amount distributed to those without cards, if they deregister them upon returning to Afghanistan. The two countries have agreed to pool resources to increase this package to $100. Mr. Rind says that Pakistan will pledge $5 million to the fund.

“We believe that giving $100 per returnee will help them to reintegrate in a more sustainable way,” said Afghanistan’s Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Ustad Mohammad Akbar Akbar, himself a former refugee.

Afghanistan has launched several schemes aimed at helping refugees returning home, including a land allocation scheme establishing 50 townships in 29 provinces, with further plans to set up a total of 100 townships within three years.

Shortages of land and shelter are the reasons cited by most Afghan refugees to not to return to their country. A 2005 survey of Afghans residing in Pakistan showed that 57 per cent said repatriation was not a possibility because of a lack of land or shelter to return to.

The Tripartite Commission, to be flexible and adapt to changing realities on the ground, will amend and extend the agreement concerning voluntary repatriation until the end of 2009, pending approval by the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, UNHCR said.