PESHAWAR: Countrywide registration of undocumented Afghan nationals will start on Wednesday (today) and would continue till the end of December.

Director General Afghan Commissionerate Waqar Maroof said that approximately one million Afghan nationals, who were residing in Pakistan without legal documents, would be registered.

He said that around 600,000 Afghan nationals were likely to be registered in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said that around 200,000 unregistered Afghan nationals had gone back to their country in 2016 to avoid deportation.

“This is an opportunity for the unregistered Afghans to get themselves registered with the authorities concerned,” he said, adding that the staff would facilitate applicants at the designated registration centres.

About 600,000 Afghan nationals likely to be enrolled in KP

Ministry of State and Frontier Regions and Afghan Commissionerate in collaboration with Afghanistan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation are undertaking the drive. The government will issue Afghan Citizen Card (ACC) to them to legalise their stay in Pakistan for unspecified period.

The federal government has tasked National Database and Registration Authority to conduct the long awaited registration process. For this purpose, Nadra has set up 21 centres in the country.

Enrollment of undocumented Afghan nationals was part of the 20-point National Action Plan, which was unveiled in early 2015. Sources said that differences between interior and Safron ministries caused delay in launching the documentation process. The government will obtain accurate data about undocumented Afghans.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 11 registration centres have been set up including three in Peshawar and two in Nowshera while Mardan, Haripur, Dera Ismail Khan, Lower Dir, Kohat and Mansehra have one centre each. The estimated cost of the project is Rs175 million.

Officials said that representatives of Afghan Ministry for Refugees and Repatriations would be present at those registration centres for monitoring the process. After compiling data and other particulars, the authority would issue ACCs to eligible families.

Nadra and Afghan Commissionerate had launched pilot project last month to streamline the process. Under the pilot project, the authority had set up one centre in Islamabad and another in Peshawar.

Officials said that average 110 Afghan families approached the centre in Peshawar on daily basis to obtain the card.

They said that the card would protect registered Afghan citizens from harassment at the hands of law enforcement agencies including police. Police are largely blamed for harassing and torturing refugees as well as unregistered Afghans.

Meanwhile, repatriation of refugees is going very slow as compared to previous year. Officials said that about 45,000 refugees had repatriated since January 2017 against over 400,000 in the previous year.

They said that decrease in cash assistance from $400 to $200 per head was probably one of the major factors that slowed the repatriation process. UNHCR had paid $400 to every returning refugee, however, the amount was decreased to $200 this year due to shortage of funds.

Registered Afghan refugees will lose their legal status by the end of December after their proof of registration cards would expire.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2017