Over 2 million Afghan refugees registered in Pakistan, UN refugee agency reports

Over 2 million Afghan refugees registered in Pakistan, UN refugee agency reports

Afghans line up  to collect registration cards
A four-month drive to officially register Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan ended yesterday with more than 2 million of them – three out of five being women and children under five years of age – registering with the Pakistani Government, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The data collected from this exercise will help UNHCR and the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan plan and manage the refugees who have fled decades of violence in their homeland, the agency said.

The newly-registered refugees, numbering 2,161,984, now hold Proof of Registration cards which are valid until the end of 2009 and recognize them as Afghan citizens temporarily living in Pakistan.

Afghans without these cards, who are considered illegal migrants by the Pakistani Government, will have a six-week window between 1 March and 15 April to voluntarily return to their homeland with UNHCR’s assistance, the agency’s spokesperson, Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva today.

UNHCR and the two Governments agreed last week to the closure of four refugee camps in Pakistan, accommodating more than 230,000 Afghan refugees in total, primarily due to security concerns.

New incentives for voluntary repatriation measures have also been announced, and Proof of Registration cardholders 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.

Displaced Afghans in Pakistan cite the scarcity of land and shelter as one of the top reasons why they cannot return home, according to a 2005 refugee survey. To this end, Afghanistan has launched several initiatives aimed at helping refugees returning home, including a land allocation scheme establishing 50 townships, with further plans to set up a total of 100 townships within three years.