Federal cabinet extends stay of registered Afghan refugees by 1 year

Published July 10, 2024
A meeting of the federal cabinet on Wednesday. —
Government of Pakistan
A meeting of the federal cabinet on Wednesday. — Government of Pakistan

Pakistan on Wednesday decided to grant a one-year extension in the stay of registered Afghan refugees, allaying their fear of being sent back to Afghanistan.

The caretaker government had announced the repatriation of all illegal foreigners citing security concerns in October last year. The decision was alleged to be meant for Afghan refugees, a charge that was denied by officials.

Repatriation of undocumented Afghans began on November 1 and officials now say that up to 500,000 have gone back. Officials had earlier stated there were nearly 1.7m illegal Afghans with most having lived in Pakistan for 40 years.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office today said: “The federal cabinet approved one-year extension of the validity of PoR (Proof of Registration) cards of 1.45 million Afghan refugees. Their PoR cards have been expired on June 30, 2024. The extension has been granted until June 30, 2025” said a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.

According to the UN refugee agency, Pakistan is still home to around 1.3 million registered Afghans.

PoR is a critical identity document held by registered Afghan refugees.

Besides registered, more than 800,000 have Afghan citizenship cards, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

The federal cabinet approved the extension of the validity of PoR cards for Afghan refugees that expired on June 30.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif presided over the meeting. The cabinet took the decision amid reports that Pakistan had suspended the repatriation of Afghans without legal documents.

The UNHCR welcomed the government’s decision.

“This is a big relief for refugees who were facing uncertainty and anxiety,” UNHCR spokesman Qaisar Khan Afridi told Dawn.com.

He said the “generous gesture” demonstrated Pakistan’s commitment to the global refugee cause and showed “solidarity and compassion towards refugees at a time when displaced people need our support”.

Afridi said that 52 per cent of PoR cardholders lived in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while over 315,000 lived in Balochistan, around 1,950,000 in Punjab, 75,000 Sindh, 40,000 in Islamabad and some in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan halts repatriation of illegal Afghans

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi confirmed the suspension of the repatriation plan after meeting with Pakistani leaders a day ago at the conclusion of his three-day visit.

Grandi had expressed appreciation that the “Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan” had been suspended and sought assurances that it would remain on hold, according to a UNHCR statement.

“He called for Pakistan’s proud tradition of hospitality towards those Afghans with international protection needs to continue.”

However, the Foreign Office spokesperson denied the UNHCR chief’s claim regarding the repatriation plan’s suspension.

“This is not true. It may be noted that no such understanding has been given by Pakistan to the UNHCR, including in recent meetings with the High Commissioner for Refugees,” Mumtaz Zehra Baloch told Dawn.com.

She said the repatriation plan remained in place and was being implemented in an orderly and phased manner.

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