The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has requested Pakistan to review its December 31 deadline for the repatriation of more than three million Afghan refugees from the country after staying there for three decades.
On Monday, the opening day of his three-day visit to Pakistan, UNHCR chief António Guterres called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and also held talks with Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz.
“Matters relating to Afghan refugees in Pakistan including their repatriation to their homeland came under discussion,” said an official statement. The prime minister said Pakistan took care of Afghan refugees as a sacred duty and their return with dignity is a priority for the government.
An official familiar with the meeting said the issue of repatriation of Afghan refugees came under discussion with particular focus on the deadline set by Pakistan for the complete return of Afghan nationals to their homeland.
Read: Refugee registration: Afghan team in Pakistan for talks
Pakistan decided not to extend the deadline of repatriation following the terror attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December last year. However, the UNHCR and Afghan government have been pushing Pakistan since then to review its decision.
The official said the UN high commissioner during a meeting with Sartaj stressed the need for drawing up a ‘viable roadmap’ for the return of Afghan refugees.
A statement issued by the Foreign Office said issues related to Afghan refugees in Pakistan and their voluntary repatriation back to their homeland were discussed during the meeting.
Guterres acknowledged the efforts by Pakistan for hosting the world’s largest refugee population for more than three decades. In response, the adviser also appreciated the UNHCR’s continuous engagement with Pakistan over return of Afghan refugees.
Sartaj suggested that the UNHCR, supported by the International community, should assist the current Afghan government in creating ‘pull factors’ inside Afghanistan, which would be helpful in the reintegration of Afghans returning from Pakistan.
Read: The plight of refugees
“In this regard, both felt a strong need for donors to provide immediate, tangible and concrete support for reintegration activities inside Afghanistan,” the statement said.
It was also agreed that with the peaceful transition of power in Afghanistan and the commitment shown by the current dispensation, it was the time for successful repatriation and reintegration of Afghan refugees.
This is Guterres’ sixth visit to Pakistan since his appointment as the High Commissioner for Refugees by the UN General Assembly in 2005.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2015.
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