ISLAMABAD: The UN refugee agency is scheduled to begin the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan on Monday (April 3) with a major cut in cash funding for the returning refugees, a UNHCR official said on Saturday.
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Dunya Khan told The Express Tribune that the repatriation and reintegration grant for registered Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan this year has been halved to $200.
Previously, every registered refugee used to get $400 under the UNHCR’s repatriation programme.
Reduction in the cash grant could be a major factor discouraging refugees from opting for the voluntary return programme this year.
Some 16,000 refugees had registered themselves for repatriation with the UNHCR in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Prior registration is a condition for the refugees living in the province, but there is no such condition for refugees in Balochistan.
All registered refugees will be sent back to the country of their origin in April and May this year while the registration of other refugees will continue, a UNHCR official said.
Over 380,000 Afghans return from Pakistan in 2016: UNHCR
“In the light of financial constraints facing humanitarian operations worldwide, including UNHCR, the cash grant has been reduced from $400 in 2016,” the UNHCR spokesperson said.
Currently, Pakistan hosts 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees, according to UNHCR data. Nearly a million unregistered refugees also live in Pakistan.
By the end of last year, as many as 370,000 registered refugees had returned under UNHCR’s repatriation programme.
The voluntary repatriation process from Pakistan was delayed this year for nearly a month because of the closure of border.
The repatriation starts every year on March 1 after the winter break.
This would be the first repatriation after Pakistan adopted a national policy for managing refugees and Afghans nationals in the country.
During a federal cabinet meeting in February, it was decided that the validity of the proof-of-registration cards to nearly 1.3 million Afghans refugees by the end of this year. A visa regime for Afghan nationals was also approved at that meeting.
Earlier, UNHCR’s Representative in Pakistan Indrika Ratwatte had stated that the agency would continue to seek robust international support for the voluntary repatriation and more equitable responsibility-sharing to support Afghan refugees and host communities in Pakistan.
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