PESHAWAR: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed the hope that the unity government accord in Afghanistan between President-elect Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah could encourage voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees.
“The recent political reconciliation in Afghanistan could encourage Afghan refugees living in Pakistan to return home voluntarily,” deputy head of the mission of the UNHCR in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mustafa Sarwar said during a workshop on ‘solution strategy for Afghan refugees (SSAR) 2012-15’ here.
The Commissionerat for Afghan Refugees and UNHCR had organised the workshop to discuss the SSAR, which was made to support voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees, their sustainable reintegration in own society, and assistance to host countries, including Pakistan and Iran.
The strategy has yet to achieve objectives.
Mustafa Sarwar told participants that uncertainty and insecurity in the war-ravaged country had been a major obstacle to the return of refugees to their homeland.
Representative says UNCHR ready to facilitate Afghan citizens’ rehabilitation
He said he was hopeful that the new Afghan government would bring stability to Afghanistan and thus, encouraging repatriation of its citizens.
The UNHCR representative said his organisation was committed to facilitating repatriation of refugees, supporting their reintegration and assisting rehabilitation activities to rebuild damaged infrastructure in the refugee-hosting areas in Pakistan through its Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) programme.
He said under the RAHA programme, 228 projects were launched in different areas with the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) funding and 180 of them had been successfully completed.
The workshop was informed that the UNHCR had increased cash assistance from $150 to $200 each for Afghan refugees returning home voluntarily and provided them with transport facility but even then, repatriation was slow.
Additional commissioner of CAR Waqar Maroof, who was also in attendance, expressed concern over the slow return of refugees and said repatriation of Afghan nationals from Pakistan had gone slow down.
He said around 19,000 Afghan refugees had repatriated in 2013 but only 4,800 Afghans had returned home during the current year so far under the programme.
“This trend is very discouraging,” he said.
Waqar Maroof said population growth rate among refugees was high.
He said 1.6 million registered refugees were contributing around 75,000 new born children to the existing refugee population in Pakistan every year with an annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent.
The additional commissioner of CAR said Pakistan hosted the biggest number of refugees in the world and that over three million Afghan nationals, including over one million unregistered ones, had been living in the country for around 34 years.
He said the government would never opt for forced return of Afghans after 2015.
Beryali Miankhel, member of the shura of Afghan refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said the government should decide about Afghans living in Pakistan without registration.
He said Afghans should either be given the refugee status or sent home.
Miankhel alleged that police harassed unregistered Afghan refugees.
He said unregistered Afghans came back to Pakistan after deportation.
“Deportation is a useless exercise and all deported Afghans are coming back (to Pakistan),” he said, asking the government to find permanent solution of the issue.
Miankhel complained that electricity to 60 per cent refugee villages and camps had been disconnected, while the relevant authorities had included arrears valuing millions of rupees to their payments.
He said the UN agencies had stopped providing funds to the refugee school forcing hundreds of thousands of Afghan children to drop out after primary education.
Published in Dawn, September 25th , 2014