ISLAMABAD: Amid reports that Pakistan is working on a plan for repatriating more than two million Afghan refugees in 2018, a US official has said “right now [situation in] Afghanistan is not conducive for large-scale, voluntary return of the refugees”.
“Pakistan and the US share the same goal that someday all Afghans would return home with safety and dignity,” said US Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Situation Nancy Izzo Jackson.
She was talking to a group of journalists on Thursday at the US embassy where she shared details of her meetings with senior civil and military officials in Pakistan about the refugees and issues surrounding them.
“The challenge we have and even the events we have seen during the past few weeks in Afghanistan are not conducive right now for large-scale, voluntary return of the refugees but we are working towards it,” said the US official.
The federal cabinet on Wednesday extended stay of Afghan refugees for two months. It is the second extension during 2018 and overall seventh since the voluntary return plan has been started in early 2000.
Afghan refugees win two-month extension in stay
Currently, Pakistan is hosting 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees while about one million are unregistered.
Jackson appreciated Pakistan’s commitment to hold refugees for 40 years, stating that she was going to Afghanistan on Saturday to discuss the issue and know about what the government in Kabul was looking at.
She added the US had been the largest single-country contributor for humanitarian assistance in Pakistan and the region.
When questioned about the concerns of the Pakistani security establishment about the Afghan refugees being a threat to national security, the US official replied that the refugees were not a security threat.
She added she told Pakistani government that providing assistance and protection to the refugees fleeing violence, conflict and terror in Afghanistan and still identifying and stopping terrorists in Pakistan were not mutually exclusive goals.
“We should not be penalising 1.4 million refugees or for what individuals may do, and it is not helpful to conflate refugees and terrorists,” she said.
She agreed to the fact that the Pakistani government was keenly interested in facilitating and encouraging the return of refugees as soon as possible.
“We did talk about the type of actions that the Afghan government could do to encourage their return, but unfortunately as long as war continues the situation is difficult to go home,” she said.
The deputy assistant secretary clarified that someone who was a terrorist or intended to change politics by terror was not a refugee and “they forego their right to be refugee if they behave in such a manner, but to say that these 1.4 million Afghan, who fled here or fear for their lives, are all terrorists is bit unfair”.
She stated that about 0.8 million undocumented officials had been registered, but was hopeful that Pakistan would return them in a humane way that did not overwhelm the Afghan government.
Extension in Afghan refugees’ stay beyond June 2018 unlikely
“They are refugees until a durable solution is reached and some day they return home with safety and dignity,” she maintained.
Sharing the new financial plans, Jackson also stated that the US was looking at other ways for additional support for the heavily-impacted refugee hosting countries like Pakistan.
She said last year the US government was instrumental in creating a new World Bank facility and the idea was doing additional resources beyond traditional donors for countries hosting refugees.