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Pakistan to grant one-month extension to registered Afghan refugees

09 January, 2018

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ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan expressed concern at Pakistan’s decision to grant only a one-month extension in the stay of registered Afghan refugees and insisted that 1.4 million refugees could not be repatriated in such a short period.

The cabinet in its January 3 meeting granted one-month extension in the Proof of Registration (POR) Cards that allow registered refugees to stay legally in Pakistan. The period of PoR cards expired on December 31, 2017. Under the cabinet decision, registered Afghan refugees can stay until January 31.

The cabinet had also decided that the issue of early repatriation of Afghan refugees should be raised with the UN refugee agency and with the international community.

“Pakistan’s economy had carried the burden of hosting Afghan refugees for a long time and in the present circumstances, cannot sustain it further,” the cabinet had said in a statement.

Afghanistan deputy ambassador Zardasht Shams said that the decision to repatriate over one million refugees in a month time was impossible.

“We are concerned at only one-month extension. If a reasonable time-frame was not decided, it would provide an excuse to the police and others to harass the refugees,” Shams told reprters on Monday.

The Afghan diplomat said the process of voluntary repatriation of the refugees by the UNHCR had also been suspended for winter break until March and the decision to send Afghans back in one month was difficult to be implemented.

He said about one million refugees had returned in 2016-2017 and repatriation of over million Afghans would require enough time. He said Afghanistan had not yet received a formal notification and Kabul would take up the issue with Pakistan at highest level after a formal decision was received.

Reports earlier suggested that Pakistani officials at a recent tripartite meeting of Pakistan – Afghanistan – UNHCR had agreed to extend by six months a deadline for Afghan Refugees beyond December 31, 2017. Official sources had earlier told Daily Times that the Foreign Office had suggested extension of PoR by end 2018.

However, it is thought Pakistan approved only one month extension of the refugees’ legal stay in the wake of deterioration of relations with Afghanistan and the US leaders’ recent accusations against Pakistan.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif claimed last month in a TV interview that militants who came from the Afghan side of the border had “transit into the camps of Afghan refugees and later they keep on changing positions and relocate.” He had called for repatriation of the refugees with dignity and honor, urging the US administration to spend money on the settlement of the refugees in Afghanistan.

The cabinet has taken the decision at a time when the documentation of the hundreds of thousands of un-registered refugees is underway in Pakistan.

Shams, who is also monitoring the documentation process, said that about 700,000 unregistered refugees had been documented until January 5.

The documentation process, which is going-on in 21 centers across Pakistan, is scheduled to conclude on January 31. The process was started last year amid concerns both in Pakistan and Afghanistan about the large number of unregistered Afghans in Pakistan.

In Kabul officials of the refugee ministry says that Afghan officials in Islamabad were making efforts to convince Pakistani officials to extend the refugees’ stay for six months.

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