The Government of Pakistan (GoP) is likely to extend the deadline for the repatriation of Afghan refugees to December 31, 2013, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Around 1.6 million registered and 0.6 million unregistered Afghan refugees are currently living in Pakistan. Approximately 60% of the refugees are living in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). Of these, 80% live in camps whereas the rest live in rented houses.
Officials of the K-P Home and Tribal Affairs Department said the repatriation deadline was expected to be extended as the matter was under discussion at relevant quarters. December 31, 2012 was the initial deadline set by the GoP. This was later extended to June 30 by former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf following the Pakistan, Afghanistan and UN Refugee Agency tripartite agreement regarding Afghan refugees.
“Yes the deadline for their (Afghan refugees) repatriation is still June 30, but correspondence with the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) is underway and it is expected the deadline will be extended to December 31, 2013,” said an official of the home department while requesting anonymity.
The official explained a strategy – yet to be given final shape – was being devised to give some Afghans living in Pakistan refugee status. The qualification of those eligible for the said status is just one of the aspects of the policy under discussion.
“There will also be debate on whether those seeking asylum can be given refugee status,” added the official. However, the policy is yet to be finalised or approved, he added.
Home department officials said more than 35 camps had been set up for refugees. But unlike in other countries, Afghan refugees can live in or outside the camps.
Officials of the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR) told The Express Tribune a large number of families had migrated voluntarily to Afghanistan from different parts of K-P. Despite the security situation in Afghanistan, people are still willing to leave for their native areas, noted a CAR official. “We do not force them to leave but a number of families have willingly left for their respective areas.”
On December 1, 2012, the government started grouping Afghan refugees. Moreover, a letter was sent to the Nowshera district management to immediately set up a refugee camp for all those refugees residing outside K-P, specifically in Punjab and Sindh. A senior CAR official confirmed the move was a step to group scattered Afghan families together so it would be easier for authorities to document and repatriate them.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2013.
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