PESHAWAR/ ISLAMABAD: Islamabad granted Afghan refugees an extra six months to remain in Pakistan Wednesday as authorities stepped up efforts to work with the UN and Kabul to relocate camps to Afghanistan.
The period of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards that allow Afghan refugees to stay in Pakistan was to be expired on June 30.
"The period of the PoR cards that was to be expired tomorrow [Thursday] has been extended on the directives issued by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from London on Wednesday," the Afghan ambassador Omar Zakhilwal told The Express Tribune.
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According to Afghan officials, they had requested Islamabad to extend the PoR cards for two more years so they are able to make arrangements to accommodate the returnees. Initially, the PoR cards were expired on December 31, 2015. However, the government had extended it until June 30, 2016.
Pakistan hosts nearly 1.6 million registered and 1 million unregistered Afghans, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
UNHCR spokesperson Duniya Aslam Khan confirmed the development, saying the decision was only an interim one "The Proof of Registration cards of the Afghans residing in Pakistan have been given an extension till December 31, 2016."
An official of the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR) in Peshawar said the proposal for the extension of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan was under consideration for the last few days.
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The UNHCR officials said that Pakistan had itself suggested last year to extend the refugees stay by the end of 2017. However, the federal cabinet will take a final decision.
Zakhilwal said extension in the refugees stay will provide an opportunity for Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the world community to hold negotiations about the repatriation of the refugees.
The government has also confirmed extension in the refugees stay in Pakistan.
"The prime minister of Pakistan was pleased to approve the extension of Proof of Registration cards issued by Nadra [National Database Regulatory Authority] to registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan till 30th June 2016 which is near to expire," said a notification issued by the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions. The Express Tribune has received a copy of the notification dated June 28.
The Afghan ambassador also met Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Foreign Affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz in Islamabad and raised the issue of the alleged "harassment" of the refugees.
"My discussions with Ishaq Dar were focused on trade and transit that include Afghanistan's quest for permission to Afghan traders to transport goods to the Indian border city of Attari through Wagah border," the Afghan ambassador said.
In his meeting with Sartaj Aziz, the ambassador said, he had follow discussion of the talks between the two countries in Tashkent.
Both sides had agreed in Tashkent talks to constitute a high level bilateral mechanism for consultation and coordination on various important issues relating to bilateral relations and cooperation, including security, movement of people and vehicles between the two countries and other relevant issues.