ISLAMABAD: The government, with the support of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has launched a nationwide verification exercise for 1.4 million Afghan refugees.

Minister for States and Frontier Regions Mehboob Sultan launched the Documentation Renewal and Information Verification Exercise (Drive) here on Thursday.

UNHCR Representative Noriko Yoshida and Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees Saleem Khan were present on the occasion.

During the six-month exercise, registered Afghan refugees who currently hold Proof of Registration (PoR) cards will be provided with new smartcards.

“The Drive exercise is a leap forward for everyone,” Ms Yoshida said while welcoming its launch. “This step will allow refugees to have better, faster and safer access to services, including schools, hospitals and banks,” she said.

Ms Yoshida said that in addition to verifying existing data, the exercise will record Afghan refugees’ skill sets, level of education, socio-economic circumstances, allowing better targeted health, education and livelihood support in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees for four decades and a lot has changed since the last verification exercise 10 years ago. It’s crucial that we update the data of Afghan refugees to understand their situation better,” Mehboob Sultan said.

He said that as the country hosting one of the most protracted refugee situations in the world, Pakistan has strived to play its part in assisting and protecting refugees. It is important the international community also continues to come forward and share the responsibility and help find solutions, he said.

Mr Sultan urged PoR cardholder Afghans to participate fully in this exercise. He also requested that they take all precautionary measures and observe Covid-19 protocols.

Six hundred male and female staff members — a combination of government and UNHCR officials — will be working at some 35 Drive sites around the country, and using mobile registration vehicles, to support refugees throughout the exercise.

Measures are in place at all Drive sites to mitigate Covid-19 risks through enhanced hygiene, physical distancing and the scheduling of set numbers of appointments each day.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2021

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