Pakistan wants repatriation of Afghan refugees expedited
By Sher Baz Khan
September 1, 2008 issue
ISLAMABAD, Aug 31: Pakistan has expressed concern over the slow pace of repatriation of Afghan refugees since 2006 and asked the international community and the Afghan government to do more to ensure early and honourable return of the refugees.
A joint statement issued at the end of a meeting of the tripartite commission here on Sunday said that Pakistan expected that an international conference on refugees’ return and reintegration to be held in November in Kabul should be seen as an opportunity to mobilise support for speedy return of the Afghans.
The commission noted that the Jalozai camp in the NWFP was closed officially on June 30 but there had been no progress with respect to the Girdi Jungle and Jungle Pir Alizai camps in Balochistan.
A source in the ministry of states and frontier regions said the government had told Afghan officials and the UN refugee agency that it was becoming impossible for Pakistan to continue to host the refugees because Afghan nationals had been found involved in recent acts of terrorism in the country.
According to the statement, all the parties agreed to draw lessons from the slow repatriation of the refugees this year and incorporate recommendations in this regard in next year�s repatriation plan.
Pakistan is of the view that any mid-term plan for repatriation would go well beyond 2009. The three-year plan (2007-9) had not succeeded because of inability of the authorities concerned to make arrangements for an honourable return of the refugees.
Pakistan told the commission that “ground realities” should be taken into account while formulating any mid-term strategy.
An official told Dawn that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in coordination with other UN agencies, would launch a pilot programme at a cost of $135 million for rehabilitating areas affected by the refugees and community development in the NWFP and Balochistan.
Almost 30 years after Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan, Pakistan still has more than two million registered refugees and Iran more than 900,000.
It was decided that four camps in Pakistan housing 230,000 refugees would be closed by 2009 but it appears that it would take more time to make the Afghans return home.
Experts fear that closing the camps and deporting undocumented refugees might create regional problems and there could be resistance because the situation in Afghanistan was not ideal for their return.
According to a UNHCR report issued in May, 82 per cent of the refugees in Pakistan do not want to go home. About three fourths of them are below the age of 28 and nearly as many have no formal education — a combination that could make them susceptible to extremism.
The UNHCR has repatriated 3.3 million Afghans since 2002, including 120,000 from Pakistan in 2008, but some two million remain in the country. The number of unregistered refugees is unknown. The largest number of refugees is in the NWFP. As the bigger camps in the province have been shut down, some refugees have shifted to camps in Punjab.
There is also a small population of refugees in Balochistan from where only 5,000 have returned this year.
The statement highlighted the importance of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy as the principle framework for return and reintegration planning.