UNHCR resumes voluntary return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan


ISLAMABAD: The UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday it has resumed voluntary repatriation programme for registered Afghan refugees from Pakistan on Friday after the winter break.

The voluntary repatriation operation had been suspended for the winter period from Dec. 1, 2018, until Feb. 28, 2019.

Pakistan continues to host 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, who are holding Proof of Registration (PoR) cards, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Around 4.4 million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan under the UNHCR-facilitated voluntary repatriation program since 2002.

The PoR card allows Afghan refugees the right to temporary legal stay in Pakistan.

Pakistan has extended the stay of the refugees until June this year.

“While voluntary repatriation is a preferred solution for the majority of Afghan refugees, it needs to be well-informed, voluntary, safe and dignified,” said UNHCR Representative in Pakistan Ruvendrini Menikdiwela.

Menikdiwela said the UNHCR acknowledges and appreciates the people and government of Pakistan for hosting Afghan refugees for four decades.

She said the firm generosity has contributed to the global refugee cause at a time when pushbacks of refugees and asylum fatigue are witnessed globally.

As the year 2019 marks the 40 years of the Afghan displacement, Menikdiwela reiterated her call to the international community to help enhance Afghanistan’s absorption capacity and provide targeted development assistance in high return areas in Afghanistan for sustainable reintegration of returnees. She also called for support to Afghan refugees and their host communities.

She also reaffirmed UNHCR’s commitment to work with the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan on long-term solutions for 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

The UNHCR provides approximately 200 U.S. dollars to every registered individual upon their return to Afghanistan. Returnees receive the cash grant at UNHCR encashment centers in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Pakistan State Bank announced that registered Afghan refugees can now open bank accounts in Pakistan following the decision by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

A bank notification said the refugees’ PoR card will be considered equal to Pakistani national identity card for biometric identification of the refugees.