Pakistan stops Afghan refugee return program following UN discussions

UNHCR's chief praised Pakistan's hospitality towards Afghan refugees and called for a reset of the aid model.

Anadolu Agency July 10, 2024
Anadolu Agency

Pakistan has halted the repatriation of Afghan refugees, the UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi said Tuesday after meeting with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in the capital Islamabad. 

Grandi expressed appreciation that the "Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan" has been suspended and sought assurances that it would remain on hold, said a statement from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Grandi, wrapping up a three-day visit to Pakistan on Tuesday, called for Islamabad’s "proud tradition" of hospitality towards those Afghans with continued international protection needs.

Last October, Pakistan announced the repatriation of Afghan refugees staying illegally in the country.

So far, according to Interior Ministry statistics, over 500,000 Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland.

During his discussions, the statement added, Grandi called for the "timely" extension of Proof of Registration cards, a critical identity document held by over 1.3 million Afghan refugees.

Praising the challenges facing the country and the admirable generosity of Pakistan’s government over 45 years of hosting Afghan refugees, Grandi called for an urgent reset of the aid model towards solutions and responsibility sharing, including fostering new partnerships and developing innovative approaches to addressing the protracted displacement situation.

“We need to seize this opportunity to accelerate solutions, and have a bigger, broader vision for the Afghan people in Pakistan,” he noted.

The high commissioner offered to work towards a dialogue later this year, which will bring together key stakeholders (including government representatives, development actors, and the private sector) to develop a package of solutions that benefits both the Afghan population living in Pakistan and the host country itself.

Grandi also committed to redoubling efforts aimed at creating conditions conducive to returns to Afghanistan including from the perspective of material conditions, access to services, job opportunities, as well as rights – paving the way for sustainable voluntary returns in the future.

"In the meantime, as Pakistan continues to host some 3 million Afghans, all solutions need to be explored in addition to voluntary repatriation, including third country resettlement and longer-term solutions within Pakistan," the statement concluded.

According to the latest UN figures, some 1.3 million Afghans enjoy the status of registered refugees in Pakistan, while another 880,000 have legal status to stay.

Pakistani officials claim that around 700,000 Afghans seeking asylum have trickled into Pakistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021. However, only 75,000 have so far moved on to other countries.


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