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Accord on dignified repatriation of Afghan refugees

Updated June 19, 2019

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In this file photo from September 7, 2016, Afghan refugees wait to register at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriation centre on the outskirts of Peshawar. — AFP
In this file photo from September 7, 2016, Afghan refugees wait to register at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriation centre on the outskirts of Peshawar. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday unanimously agreed on a 12-point joint declaration on conclusion of the Tripartite Commission meeting which discussed safe and honourable repatriation of Afghan refugees.

According to the 12-point communiqué, the three parties expressed their commitment to extend the existing Tripartite Agreement governing the voluntary repatriation of Afghan citizens living in Pakistan, pending approval by the federal cabinet.

All three parties to the Tripartite Agreement recalled that 2019 marks the 40th year since the beginning of large-scale displacement of Afghan refugees and appreciated the hospitality of the government of Pakistan in providing continued protection to Afghan refugees for four decades.

The three parties reaffirmed their commitment to uphold the principle of voluntary repatriation, in safety and dignity, under the Tripartite Agreement, make efforts to create an environment conducive to voluntary return and sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan and continue supporting the host communities in Pakistan, within the framework of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, UNHCR agree on 12-point declaration on conclusion of Tripartite Commission meeting

Pakistan was represented by Minister for States and Frontier Regions Shehryar Afridi, Afghanistan by its Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi and UNHCR by its representatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

They also appreciated the progress achieved by the government of Afghanistan in the development of the Policy Framework and Action Plan, the decision to implement the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework which reaffirms the commitment to include refugee returnees in the National Priority Programmes, particularly the Citizen’s Charter, as well as the enactment of the Presidential Decree on Land Allocation.

The parties called for continued support for the implementation of these initiatives and requested that progress of these initiatives was shared with the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, including through an awareness-raising programme, in order to enable them to make an informed decision to voluntarily return, with the facilitation of and in coordination with the host government.

They welcomed the efforts of Afghanistan, UNHCR and other partners to promote targeted development interventions in “priority areas of return and reintegration” and called on the international community and development actors to support this important initiative with a view to enhancing absorption capacity and enabling sustainable reintegration of returning refugees through a whole-of-community approach, in a tangible and predictable manner, in line with the commitments enshrined in the Global Compact on Refugees and agreed to share periodic updates on the progress in the implementation of this initiative.

Later, addressing a joint press conference, Mr Afridi said that it was a big day for Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and UNHCR, as well as for the Afghan refugees that detailed deliberations were conducted to ensure respect and address their concerns and issues.

He said Afghan President Dr Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Imran Khan desired that the Afghan refugees were facilitated and their honourable repatriation and rehabilitation ensured.

“UNHCR played a key role in facilitating this dialogue. Premier Imran Khan also has taken steps to facilitate the Afghan refugees and under the same spirit 1.4 million Afghan refugees are allowed to open bank accounts,” he added.

Lauding the positive role played Afghan Refugees Minister Balkhi, Mr Afridi said that 68 per cent of Afghan refugees were already integrated with the mainstream Pakistani population, while 32pc were living in camps.

He said that it was unfortunate to note that 85pc refugees worldwide were being looked after by developing countries, including Pakistan. He said the developed world should come forward and play its role according to its international commitments and UN conventions.

Mr Balkhi said the Afghan government remained committed to voluntary and dignified return of Afghan refugees for sustained reintegration. “In addition to our efforts, we made a plea to UNHCR to increase cash grant to enable Afghan refugees to return to their homeland,” he added.

He said the Afghan government would soon launch a campaign to inform the refugees living in Pakistan and Iran about its steps to absorb them back home and make their stay sustainable and honourable.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2019