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PM Gilani seeks int'l help on Afghan refugees' repatriation

03 February, 2012

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, on Thursday, said Pakistan wanted the return of Afghan refugees to their homeland with honour and called upon the international community for assistance in this regard.

Talking to UN High Commissioner for Afghan Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres at the PM's House, the prime minister said it seemed that the international community had forgotten Afghan refugees.

The prime minister said Pakistan would support any reconciliation process, which was Afghan-led and Afghan-owned and added that its culmination would not destabilise Pakistan.

The prime minister emphasised that the return of the Afghan refugees was important because the crossing of borders by 30,000 to 40,000 Afghan's on a daily basis made it impossible to distinguish between a "tourist and a terrorist".

He reiterated that the democratic government had the resolve and capacity to defeat the forces of terrorism and added that the safe return of Afghan refugees to their homeland would help in this pursuit.

The UNHCR has thanked Pakistan for its hospitality towards Afghan refugees while praising its continued commitment to finding lasting solutions to the situation.

Antonio Guterres was speaking at the end of a two-day visit organised at the invitation of the Minister for States and Frontier Regions Engineer Shaukatullah. In a briefing to journalists on Thursday, Guterres called for additional international solidarity with Pakistan and Iran, which continue to host large numbers of Afghan refugees after more than 30 years.

"At a time when many countries are closing their doors to those fleeing violence and persecution, the generosity of the people and the government of Pakistan towards Afghan refugees deserves greater recognition and support on the part of the international community," he said.

During his visit, Guterres also met with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Central to their talks was an agreement reached in Dubai earlier this week between Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and UNHCR to pursue a regional strategy aimed at finding durable solutions to the Afghan refugee situation. The new strategy will be presented at an international conference to be held in Switzerland in early May.

The conference will seek international support for programmes inside Afghanistan that will increase the attractiveness and sustainability of returns while providing additional support to communities that continue to host Afghan refugees.

In 2011, just over 50,000 Afghan refugees returned home from Pakistan, down from nearly 110,000 thousand in 2010. Despite the decline, the number of Afghan returns last year still represented the largest refugee repatriation programme in the world.

"The priority now," said the UNHCR chief, "is to create conditions inside Afghanistan that will allow for large scale voluntary repatriation." He said they were reaching out to the international community to undertake heavy investment in 48 identified areas within Afghanistan, which would encourage the Afghan refugees to return to their native country on permanent basis because it would provide them attractive job opportunities.

He also called upon the implementation of restricted movement at the boarders at an acceptable level. Guterres also commended the government for reaffirming its commitment to the voluntary and gradual return of Afghan refugees. There are currently 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Since 2002, more than five million Afghan refugees have already left to return home, the majority with assistance from UNHCR.

He also emphasised on the need for registering the refugees, adding that non-registered refugees should not be treated as refugees as defined by the UN. Antonio Guterres appreciated the people of Pakistani for extending hospitality to more than three million Afghan refugees who had to leave their homes due to the military occupation of their country in 1979.

End.

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