Top UN official due today, as Afghan refugees’ stay nears end

  • Filippo Grandi, along with Mark Lowcock, to meet senior govt officials in Islamabad, Afghan refugees in Peshawar during a three-day visit

A high-powered UN delegation is arriving in Islamabad today (Thursday) on a three-day visit, as yet another three-month ‘interim’ extension in the stay of the registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan is near end on September 30, 2018.

Accompanied by UN Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock and UNHCR Director for Asia and Pacific Indrika Ratwatte, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi is arriving in Islamabad where he will meet senior government officials and discuss with the current situation of the refugees.

In July’s first week, the federal government allowed nearly 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees to remain in Pakistan by granting another interim extension till September 30. The interim extension implies that the caretaker government has left it to the discretion of the next elected government to make a final call — should it wish to continue with the extension or revoke it.

During the three-day visit, High Commissioner Filippo Grandi will also visit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where he will meet refugees returning to Afghanistan. Before coming to Pakistan, he visited Iran and Afghanistan to address the Afghan refugee situation. With UNHCR’s assistance, around 4.3 million Afghan refugees have returned home from Pakistan since 2002.

During a tripartite commission meeting in Kabul in August 2015, Afghanistan had requested Islamabad to extend the stay of the Afghan refugees till December 2018. Pakistan is still hosting 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees in addition to 850,000 Afghan citizen card holders besides undocumented Afghans, a senior government official said.

Director General for Afghan Refugees Waqar Maroof said that about 4.443 million refugees had been repatriated between 2002 and 2018. About 17 basic health units are operational at the refugee villages in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The official chart shows that repatriation of the refugees is going slow as 6,647 PoR (proof of registration) card holders had returned from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Afghanistan since March last.

The Afghan refugee situation is one of the largest and most protracted in the world, with many having been in the country for as long as 40 years — meaning many young refugees are third or even fourth generation, born and raised in Pakistan. Painfully aware of the ongoing insecurity in their homeland, they nevertheless still dream of one day returning to their roots.

In mid of August, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal had said that Pakistan and Afghanistan were engaged in developing a time bound repatriation plan for early and complete return of Afghan refugees to their homeland. He had said that an Afghan delegation would soon be visiting Islamabad for consultations in this regard.


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