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UN refugee agency briefs German foreign minister on Afghans in Pakistan

UN refugee agency briefs German foreign minister on Afghans in Pakistan

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Ahead of next week’s “Group of Eight” Summit, the Foreign Minister of Germany has received a briefing on the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan from officials of the United Nations agency dealing with their plight.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier travelled to the region to witness the Afghan repatriation from north-western Pakistan.

Last Wednesday, the delegation travelled to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voluntary repatriation centre in Peshawar, Pakistan, where the agency’s assistant representative, Kilian Kleinschmidt, briefed the German foreign minister about the overall situation.

“Pakistan is home to the world’s largest refugee situation, the largest assisted repatriation in modern history and the largest registration of refugees ever conducted,” said Mr. Kleinschmidt. “More than 1 million Afghans have been processed by UNHCR through this voluntary repatriation centre in the last six years, which makes it the largest repatriation centre in the world,” he noted.

During his visit, the Foreign Minister focused on how the international community and Germany could contribute efficiently to the management of population flows between Pakistan and Afghanistan, UNHCR said.

He took back with him a sample Proof of Registration card issued after the Afghan registration exercise and a biometric border crossing card issued by Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority “to show my colleagues what could be do-able in Pakistan and Afghanistan if we bring them together.”

The repatriation of card holders started from April 19 this year and will continue till the end of the year. Some 20,000 registered Afghans have so far chosen to repatriate with UNHCR assistance averaging $100 per person.

The Pakistan Government reiterated that unregistered Afghans would be considered illegal immigrants and would be dealt with under national laws. However, undocumented Afghans were given a six-week window from March to mid-April to repatriate “in safety and dignity” with UNHCR assistance, the agency said. More than 200,000 Afghans repatriated over those six weeks.

Mr. Steinmeier conducted the visit in preparation for the June 6-8 meeting of the G8 leading industrialized nations – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States – and upcoming European Union foreign minister meetings in Germany.