With their Proof of Registration cards expiring by December 31, most Afghan refugees in Pakistan would like to return to a safer Afghanistan, according to Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Joint Secretary Imran Zeb.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Zeb said the government promotes the voluntary return of Afghan refugees and terms 2012 the ‘Repatriation Support Year’. He added that it was unlikely, however, that all refugees will be repatriated to Afghanistan by the December deadline.
The SAFRON Joint Secretary said that inter-ministerial consultation continued and a proposal for refugee repatriation had been sent to the cabinet for approval. Given Pakistan’s security and economic concerns, local integration of Afghan refugees is unfavourable. The majority of refugees wanted to return to a safer Afghanistan as well, he added.
Zeb said work was under way in this regard. He said that development work is scheduled to begin on 48 ‘safe for return’ sites in Afghanistan throughout the 2012-14 timeframe. Work on 18 sites has begun already.
The Cabinet approved a strategy for the management and repatriation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan back in March 2010. The strategy offered alternative stay arrangements to refugees who might not be able to return to Afghanistan. The arrangements provided in the strategy dealt with issuance of work, business and education visas to Afghans in order to regularise their stay in Pakistan and monitor cross-border movement effectively.
However, Pakistan has yet to form a legal framework to deal with the refugees; it has yet to accede to the UN’s 1951 convention on refugees – a legal document which will enable the country to enact its own asylum laws. The government has established an inter-ministerial committee to review issues pertaining to the UN’s 1951 convention and 1967 protocol on refugees.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will attend sessions of the parliamentary standing committees for law, interior and foreign affairs as they review Pakistan’s accession to the convention. According to UNHCR Pakistan representative Neil Wright, the organisation has constantly reminded Islamabad to sign the convention. No work on that front has been accomplished so far, he added.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2012.
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