The delegates from both Pakistan and Afghanistan came together in Islamabad on November 08, 2018, to discuss the future road-map regarding Afghan refugees and other Afghan nationals illegally residing in Pakistan. This was the second meeting of the Refugee Working Group (WG) – formulated under the framework of Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) – at the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions Division (SAFRON). The first meeting of the WG was held in Kabul on July 22, 2018, as part of the inaugural session. The Afghan delegation was headed by the Deputy Minister of Refugees and Repatriation, Dr. Alema, whereas Mr. Mohammad Aslam, Secretary SAFRON, led the Pakistani side in the meeting.
“Both sides deliberated on the ways to enhance mutual cooperation for a dignified, gradual, time bound and complete return of the Afghan nationals to their country,” a statement from the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said. It was also decided to observe the agreed timelines and procedures for repatriation of various categories of these persons to Afghanistan, the statement added.
As per the UN refugee agency, currently, Pakistan is hosting about 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees who hold the proof of registration (PoR) cards. The government has extended their stay until June 30, 2019. In addition to the PoR card-holders, some 880,000 more were documented earlier this year, who hold the Afghan Citizen Cards (ACC), informed Afghanistan’s Deputy Ambassador Zardasht Shams. Besides that, several thousand undocumented refugees are living in Pakistan as well. The joint working group works on the principle of direct and regular contact among relevant ministries in both countries, under the umbrella of the politico-diplomatic cooperation.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry, in the same statement, further highlighted that, “the two sides agreed to optimally utilize the forum to deepen engagement, communication and understanding for early return and resettlement of Afghan refugees”. However, these are preliminary meetings; both sides will hold general discussions as there will be nothing specific at this stage. The next meeting of the working group on refugees will be held in the Afghan capital Kabul at a mutually convenient date, as per the statement.
Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are holding talks after Prime Minister Imran Khan offered to grant Pakistani citizenship to the Afghans born in Pakistan. Though, Afghan officials have disagreed with Khan’s idea and insist that Afghans want to return to their homeland.
“Our preference for Afghan refugees is to return to Afghanistan. The desire within the Afghan refugees is to return to their own country,” Afghanistan outgoing ambassador Omar Zakhilwal had said in an interview last month. “Some of them have already returned, while the rest are worried about the security environment. So, a better situation for them is peace and stability in their country … so we do not need to push them to return, they will on their own,” Zakhilwal said, when asked will Kabul allow those Afghans who want to stay in Pakistan. He said those Afghans who have got Pakistani citizenship will also return when there will be peace in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR Country Representative in Pakistan, Ruvendrini Menikdiwela enunciated that the UNHCR will continue to call for international support to Pakistani host communities and the Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.