UN agency welcomes extension of stay for Afghan refugees in Pakistan
The United Nations today welcomed the renewed commitment of Pakistan, the world's largest refugee-hosting nation, to continue to provide protection and safety for over 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees.
On Friday, Pakistani Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch announced at a tripartite meeting with the Afghan Government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kabul that his country would extend refugee cards for Afghans. The proof-of-registration (PoR) cards, as they are known, were set to expire on 30 June.
The announcement comes as Pakistan finalizes a new national policy for Afghan refugees, which includes recommendations for extending PoR cards and continuing a tri-partite arrangement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR governing voluntary returns of Afghan refugees.
“UNHCR looks forward to the adoption of the new policy, as it provides a domestic framework for Pakistan's commitment to implement in letter and spirit the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees – a regional policy arrangement between the Governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and UNHCR to find solutions for one of the world's largest and most protracted refugee situations,” said Adrian Edwards, the agency's spokesperson in Geneva.
The extension of PoR cards will help end current uncertainty among Afghan refugees in Pakistan over their status, said Mr. Edwards.
In the interim, he added, UNHCR is encouraged to see an instruction from the minister's office sent to various authorities in Pakistan, including law enforcement authorities, asking them to respect existing refugee cards until the adoption of the new national policy, including extension of PoR cards.
Pakistan has generously hosted millions of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of 1979. UNHCR has been engaged with the Government of Pakistan, as well as with those of Iran and Afghanistan, in facilitating voluntary returns and managing the stay of Afghan refugees, who need continued international protection in neighbouring countries.
Since 2002, UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme has helped nearly 4.8 million Afghans return home – 3.8 million from Pakistan and around a million from Iran. Around 22,000 Afghans have returned home from Pakistan so far this year.
UNHCR also supports the sustainable reintegration of Afghans who decide to voluntarily return to their country. As voluntary returns continue to take place, the agency is considering an increase in the return grant from $150 to $200 for each Afghan refugee returning home, paid inside Afghanistan.