PESHAWAR: The United Nations refugee chief on Thursday called on the international community to invest more funds to help Afghan refugees in Pakistan even as he urged Islamabad not to blame the refugees for terrorism in their country.
“I have come here to the region on the week of World Refugee Day to highlight that Afghan refugees should not be forgotten,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said during a visit to a repatriation centre outside Peshawar on Thursday.
He warned that the roughly 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan risked becoming a “forgotten” crisis.
Islamabad has recently hinted at the possibility of deporting Afghan refugees, amid tense relations with Kabul. A decision to renew their legal status by June 30 has not yet been announced, although past deadlines have been extended at the last minute.
UNHCR chief Grandi said he had made the case for extending the June 30 deadline to the government in talks during his two-day visit to Pakistan. He also stressed the need for the international community to fund efforts to support Afghan refugees.
“My appeal is that, not only to the authorities but also to the local population: refugees as you know are not terrorists,” he said.
The number of Afghans voluntarily returning home is down sharply this year as violence worsens in Afghanistan. So far, about 6,000 Afghans have chosen to return home from Pakistan in 2016, compared with 58,211 voluntary repatriations last year, according to the UNHCR.
Earlier in the week, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz told Grandi that the continued presence of Afghan refugees in Pakistan was no longer a viable option and emphasised their repatriation.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2016.