Kabul has requested Islamabad to allow nearly 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees to stay on in Pakistan for another two years, officials said on Saturday as a meeting of the representatives of both governments and the UN refugee agency concluded in the Afghan capital.
The tripartite talks focused on the fate of nearly three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the largest protracted refugee situation in the world. In addition to the registered refugees, Pakistan hosts another 1.5 million unregistered Afghan nationals displaced by unrest in its war-torn neighbour.
Talking to The Express Tribune, an official who attended the meeting confirmed that Kabul had asked Islamabad to allow the registered refugees to stay in Pakistan for two more years. The legal stay of 1.5 million Afghans who have been issued proof of registration (PoR) cards by the Pakistan government is set to expire by the end of this year.
“The Pakistani delegation [led by Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Lt-Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch] told the Afghan side that their request will be shared with concerned departments and the issue will later be discussed in the federal cabinet,” the official said.
The Pakistani delegation also presented Islamabad’s strategy to deal with the refugees during the meeting. According to a Pakistani official who participated in the meeting, Islamabad will not forcibly expel Afghan refugees. Instead, the government will encourage them to return to Afghanistan voluntarily, he said.
Under the strategy, Pakistan will also document unregistered Afghan refugees, the official told The Express Tribune. The government has earmarked around Rs170 million for this process which is likely to begin this month, he said.
Although the unregistered refugees will not be entitled to PoR cards once documented, they will be issued passports by the government of Afghanistan to allow them to stay on in Pakistan.
Addressing a joint news conference alongside Pakistan’s SAFRON minister in Kabul, Afghanistan’s Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Said Hussain Alimi Balkhi said his government will send a 100-member delegation to Pakistan to monitor the documentation of the unregistered refugees.
Members of the delegation will be deployed at the 21 documentation centres set up to verify the identities of unregistered Afghans, he said. “Only those Afghans whose identity is established will be documented,” Balkhi added.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2015.