PESHAWAR: The federal minister for states and frontier region Engineer Shaukat Ullah on Thursday said that Pakistan will not forcefully send Afghan Refugees back to Afghanistan, instead the government will finalise a strategy for their return after the December deadline expires.
"We are formulating a new strategy for the refugees in Pakistan in 2013 and beyond which would require the approval of the cabinet," the minister said rejecting the notion that the government will force refugees to leave after December 2012.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UN had an agreement according to which Afghan refugees living in Pakistan would be allowed to stay till December 2012.
Shaukat added that the return of Afghan refugees to their homeland would continue in a dignified manner for those volunteering for it, adding that the goodwill earned by the people and government of Pakistan for hosting the ‘Afghan brothers’ for over three decades would not go to waste.
During his visit to the UNHCR facilitated volunteer return center in Chamkani, Peshawar, the minister said that they acknowledge the efforts of UNHCR in implementing the agreement between the UNHCR High Commissioner and the government of Pakistan in facilitating a surge in voluntary repatriation for the rest of the years.
Responding to a question regarding the fate of refugees with businesses in Pakistan, the minister said there will be more opportunities for them in Afghanistan now.
On this occasion, Neill Wright, UNHCR representative in Pakistan said that UNHCR had supported the government of Pakistan and provided hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance to the refugees hosted in Pakistan over the decades.
He maintained that the government of Pakistan continued to respect the fundamental principle that repatriation was voluntary and that no refugee would be forced back.
"Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR have signed a Regional Solution Strategy under which the international community will provide $600.10 million to continue voluntarily support to Afghan refugees' repatriation," he said.
The new assistance package offered by UNHCR includes kits, jerry cans, buckets, soap, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, blankets, cooking set, plastic tarpaulins, quilt, sanitary clothes and winter clothes, he informed.
The package also includes limited transport assistance from the voluntary repatriation centers in Pakistan to the Encashment centers in Afghanistan for refugee families.
This assistance package is in addition to the $150 cash grant provided to returning families and will continue till the end of December 2012, by which time a review of whether the cash grant should be increased in line with inflationary costs, will have been completed.
So far, four groups comprising almost 1,300 Afghan refugees have returned home under the Facilitated Return Group (FRG) programme from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces.
Overall, 62,500 individuals have returned in 2012, which indicates a 34 per cent increase in the number of Afghan refugees who have returned home.
An Afghan government representative, Abdul Hameed Jalili, on this occasion said that the Afghan government was planning to establish 48 new cities for Afghans returning from Pakistan and Iran, adding that the families with no accommodation in Afghanistan, will be given plots and related facilities to facilitate their new life in Afghanistan.
Azad Khan, 60, an Afghan refugee, returning to his homeland, told that he along with his family members had come to Pakistan almost 36 years ago due to war in Afghanistan and were returning now that it was peaceful in Afghanistan.
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