PESHAWAR, Aug 30: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on Thursday asked all Afghan nationals to return home before losing their refugee right at the end of December.
“Afghan nationals possessing Proof of Registration Cards (PoRs) are directed that they should wind up all their activities, including businesses, till December 31, 2012 and start preparations for returning to Afghanistan. No Afghan refugee will be allowed to stay in Pakistan after the deadline,” the provincial home and tribal affairs department said in a brief statement issued here on Thursday.
The department denied media reports that the federal government had allowed illegal and unregistered Afghans to continue their stay by the end of the year.
“The government didn’t give any such relaxation to unregistered, illegal Afghan nationals and other foreigners,” the statement clarified.
Provincial government had already ordered undocumented Afghans in May 2012 to leave Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or face legal action.
The home department had empowered police to arrest illegal Afghans under Foreigners Act, 1946 and deport them after completion of legal requirements. Police arrested seven illegal Afghan nationals in Peshawar on Thursday.
Officials said around 1.7 million registered Afghans residing in Pakistan would lose their refugee status if government did not extend their PoR cards after December.
A senior official in the state and frontier region ministry said after tripartite agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR in 2009, the federal cabinet extended stay of Afghans by the end of 2012.
“If federal cabinet does not give extension to PoR card holders then registered Afghans will automatically lose their refugee status,” he said.
The government with the assistance of UNHCR had recently carried out registration of newly born Afghan refugees and enrolled their names in PoR cards issued to their parents.
An official in UN refugee agency, who requested not to be named, said the provincial government statement was serious development and surprising. “Extension in PoR cards is an issue which is being discussed with the relevant quarters in Islamabad, but ministry of SAFRON has never taken such tough stand,” said the official.
The Pakistan government, the source said had assured UN agency and Afghan government at different forum to facilitate voluntary repatriation process.
“The provincial government statement will create a serious row if refugee status of PoR card holders is withdrawn,” official said, adding that UN agency would recognise refugee status of Afghans in Pakistan after December who had registration cards.
“Security and economic conditions in Afghanistan is not suitable to send refugees holding cards to their country,” official said.
It is worth mentioning that Afghan government had already expressed reservation about over deportation of undocumented Afghans. The UN agency does not oppose government action against uncommented Afghans.
Officials said the Afghan government and UNHCR had launched reintegration of returnees and internally displaced persons in their country. Decision was taken in the stakeholder meeting recently held in Geneva (Switzerland).
It was decided that UN agency and Afghan government would identify 48 potential return areas inside Afghanistan including Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat and Bamyan where shelter would be provided to vulnerable returnees and IDPs.
Officials said the project would cost $1.9 billion and work on 19 sites had been started. They said livelihood and basic amenities would be provided to vulnerable communities at these places.