Pakistani parliamentarians and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have denied media reports claiming that 1.7 million Afghan refugees were being expelled by the end of this year.
Talking to the Voice of America (VOA), UNHCR spokesperson Dunya Aslam Khan, while terming the reports baseless, said that Pakistan had no intention to expel Afghan refugees living in Pakistan by the end of 2012.
He said Pakistan was bound to fulfil its obligation and Afghan refugees possessing registration cards would not be expelled until they were ready to go back to Afghanistan voluntarily. He said the war-torn country was not in a position to take the burden of 1.7 million refugees at this stage.
Federal Minister for States and Frontier Region Engineer Shaukatullah also said that all registered and non-registered Afghan refugees willing to go back to their homes voluntarily would be repatriated by the end of this year.
“All registered Afghan refugees who voluntarily desire will be allowed to go back to their homes in Afghanistan,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Awami National Party Senator Afrasiyab Khattak said that Afghan refugees are a burden on Pakistan in view of the present economic situation, but “I will not support their expulsion from the country as they are living in Pakistan due to certain compulsions”. Expulsion of Afghan refugees may affect bilateral relations between the two countries, he said, adding that both governments should evolve a joint strategy for their return so that it may be sustainable.
Aslam Khan said the return of Afghan refugees should be voluntary, but added that illegal immigrants may be expelled.
She said the UNHCR had contacted government officials to verify media reports and that Pakistan had made a commitment to the UNHCR country director that no recognised Afghan refugee would be deported from Pakistan.
According to Pakistani officials, about one million Afghans are living in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa without valid documents. At least one million non-registered Afghan refugees currently living in Pakistan are reportedly being sent back by force, hence, the UNCHR official said that non-registered Afghan refugees should register themselves.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2012.