Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR discuss voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan
KABUL - The Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed in a meeting, chaired by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the Turkish city of Istanbul last week that voluntary and dignified repatriation of the Afghan refugees living in Pakistan was “vital for these vulnerable people”.
According to UNHCR Afghanistan, the two Governments agreed to support voluntary repatriation of some 1.66 million Afghan refugees presently living in Pakistan “through an agreed mechanism”, providing them a breathing space to properly reintegrate back home.
Afghanistan’s Minister for Refugees and Repatriation, Jamahir Anwary and Pakistan’s Minister for States and Frontier Regions, Shaukat Ullah led their respective delegations in the meeting. UNHCR organized and hosted this round of the Tripartite Commission meeting to discuss the future of Afghan refugees, and was represented by staff from the Country Offices in Islamabad and Kabul.
With the expiration of the present Tripartite Agreement on 31 December 2012, along with the validity of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards held by Afghan refugees in Pakistan, UNHCR supported a request by the Afghan Government for an extension to the Agreement, in order to ensure protection for the Afghan refugees, Mr. Wright, who chaired the Tripartite Commission meeting in Istanbul, told the two Government delegations.
“We are at a critical and challenging juncture. Never before, in the past 30 years, has UNHCR – and the international community – faced such a serious challenge in safeguarding the well-being of these Afghan refugees,” said Mr. Wright.
The Afghan Government and UNHCR expressed the need for extending the current tripartite agreement which governs the voluntary, dignified and safe repatriation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan for a period of three years. The Government of Pakistan delegation promised that following inter-ministerial consultations and internal deliberations, a recommendation for extension of the tripartite agreement will be submitted for approval to their Cabinet.
More than 5.8 million Afghan refugees – 4.7 million of them with UNHCR assistance – have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, increasing the population of the country by some 20 per cent.
UNHCR said last month the number of Afghan refugees returning home, in the first eight months of 2012, from Pakistan, Iran and other countries had already surpassed 50,000 individuals. Forty thousand of these returnees came from Pakistan, a 24 per cent increase as compared with the same period last year.
Under the UNHCR’s repatriation assistance programme, registered refugees coming back to Afghanistan receive an average of US$ 150 per person to cover transportation as well as the initial cost of settling back home.
However, with the current tripartite agreement expiring in the end of December, there is growing anxiety among the registered refugee population about their future in Pakistan.
The Istanbul meeting came just before the first Quadripartite Steering Committee meeting to be held in Geneva on 3 October, at which progress on the implementation of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan refugees will be reviewed.
“The most pressing need is increased support from key donor countries to invest in long term national development programs where needs are greatest – livelihoods, food, shelter, education, sanitation, and basic infrastructure – to make a difference to improving return and reintegration prospects in Afghanistan,” said Peter Nicolaus, UNHCR Representative in Afghanistan.
All parties in the meeting, according to UNHCR, confirmed the importance of extending the present Tripartite Agreement and its Commission, which is the highest body between the three parties in which to discuss policy issues and coordination for Afghan refugee issues; the need to further strengthen liaison between the three parties; and the need to present a clear, long-term policy and roadmap on voluntary repatriation.