World Refugee Day: The long and slippery road to Afghan repatriation

As deadlines come and go, UNHCR and Islamabad still scrambling for workable solution.

Our Correspondent June 20, 2013
Senior officials of the K-P government had also earlier implied the deadline set by Islamabad could be extended till the end of this year. PHOTO: ONLINE

PESHAWAR: The UNHCR is still working with Pakistani authorities to find the ‘best solution’ for registered Afghan refugees after the June 30 deadline set by Islamabad for their repatriation expires.

“The Government of Pakistan, as well as members of the international community, understand repatriation of Afghan refugees is a long process requiring understanding and patience with refugees, the most vulnerable human beings in the world,” Jacques Franguin, head of UNHCR’s sub-office in Peshawar, said on Thursday while talking to the media on World Refugee Day at PUTA Hall, University of Peshawar.

The event, organised by UNHCR to commemorate the day, was also attended by a large number of Afghan refugees, government officials, representatives of donor agencies and students.

Franguin said the UNHCR will stick to the principles of the Strategic Solutions for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) to ensure the voluntary character of repatriation as is stressed in the 1951 Refugee Convention. Senior officials of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government had also earlier implied the deadline set by Islamabad could be extended till the end of this year.

“The World Refugee Day is a reminder to all of us that we should not forget refugees who are forced to leave their country and belongings behind and have to stay in a new country,” added Franguin. “The people and government of Pakistan deserve special praise for having extended the fullest possible cooperation and granting asylum to the Afghan refugees in Pakistan.”

Afghan Attache for Refugees and Repatriation Dr Alozai Ghazi also thanked Pakistan for its hospitality since the last 30 years.

Speaking on the occasion, K-P Home Department, Syed Alamgir Shah Special Secretary lamented the federal government had failed to devise a policy to repatriate Afghan refugees with dignity.

“The deadlines for repatriation have been extended many times. This policy has to be changed as our war-torn province is facing immense economic and law and order problems,” said Shah. He thanked the UNHCR for its help during the last three decades to help Pakistan cater to the needs of the displaced Afghan people.

In a show of empathy, Commissioner for Afghan refugees Ziaur Rahman promised the people and government of Pakistan were with their Afghan brethren. “We were with you, are with you and will remain with you till the departure of the last refugee.”

Later, gifts were distributed among the Afghan children in different camps of the province.

A report released by the UNHCR states more than 45.2 million people are presently displaced, compared to the 42.5 million at the end of 2011. One out of every four refugees worldwide is an Afghan, with 95% of them located in Pakistan, which continues to host more refugees than any other nation.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.


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