ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday granted an extension in the stay of registered Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan for a further period of six months — till December 31, 2016.
“Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of States & Frontier Regions shall immediately engage with UNHCR and Government of Afghanistan for gradual relocation of refugee camps in Pakistan to Afghanistan,” spokesperson for the prime minister said.
The prime minister issued the directive after seeing the 'Repatriation and Management Policy for Afghan Refugees', said PM Office media.
It is to mention that the validity period of the ‘Proof of Registration’ cards — that allow Afghan refugees to stay in Pakistan — was to expire on June 30, 2016.
But now, following the approval by the prime minster, the registered Afghan refugees can legally stay in Pakistan till December 31, 2016.
The PM’s spokesperson further said that in order to facilitate relocation and as a gesture of continued goodwill, Pakistan shall commit provision of free of cost wheat for the relocated camps in Afghanistan for a period of three years.
“Quantum of wheat shall be determined by a certified number of refugees returning from camps in Pakistan and authorised daily entitlement according to the standards of Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO),” the spokesman said.
It should be noted that this extension in stay is given only to those Afghans who are ‘Proof of Registration’ card holders and legally reside in Pakistan.
'Its time for Afghans to go back'
There are only 100,000 registered refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said provincial information minister Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani.
“We don't suggest any aggressive campaign against Afghan refugees, but we have been hosting them for the past 35 years and it is time they should go back to their country,” Ghani said.
Unregistered Afghans had become a major security issue for the government, he added. About 6,000 Afghans have chosen to return home from Pakistan in 2016, well below last year's figure of 58,211, the United Nations' refugee agency has said.
Registration cards allowing a temporary legal stay for Afghan refugees last received a six-month extension after they expired in December 2015.
Many Afghans have lived in Pakistan for decades and contribute significantly to its labour force. But Afghan refugee camps have become “safe havens for terrorists”, Pakistani foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz told a Pakistani television channel last week.
Pakistani federal minister for states and frontier regions Abdul Qadir Baloch also warned that Pakistan was not willing to host Afghan refugees indefinitely.
Visiting Pakistan last week, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said he had made the case to the government for extending the June 30 deadline.
'Recent incidents at Pak-Afghan border unfortunate'
Pakistan and Afghanistan expressed desire to work with each other for peace and development in the region and for making efforts for well being of people of both countries.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, during a meeting with Ambassador of Afghanistan Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal on Wednesday, reiterated Pakistan's resolve to forge cordial bilateral relations with the brotherly country having particular focus on building up economic cooperation, enhancing trade and promoting communication linkages.
During the meeting, the Afghan ambassador described the recent incidents at the Pak-Afghan border as unfortunate and expressed that the two countries would continue to maintain close contacts with a view to prevent such happenings.
During the meeting both sides expressed the mutual desire for working together for peace and development in the region and for making efforts for well being of people of both countries.