Zakhilwal Says 3,80,000 Afghan Refugees Repatriated

As many as 3,80,000 Afghan refugees have been repatriated from Pakistan since January till October 6 this year, Afghan Ambassador Omer Zakhilwal said Friday (October 7, 2016), the highest figure since 2002 after the ousting  of Taliban from Kabul.

Afghan Ambassador Omer Zakhilwal told CRSS that the figure of the repartiation includes both registered and unregistered cases. “The UNHCR is giving figure of only registered repatriation,” he added.

UNHCR Spokesperson Duniya Aslam Khan said that 218,000 registered refugees were repatriated this year till October 6.  According to an estimate, over a million of the Afghan refugees are  living without registration in Pakistan. “Proof of Registration” Cards were issued to the refugees in 2009, validating their stay until December 2009 that later kept on extending. Recently the date was extended till March 2017.

It is the highest figure of Afghan refugees return since 2002 in Pakistan as more than 1.5 million Afghan refugees were repatriated  from Pakistan in 2002.

The spokesperson said that the tightening of control over the border especially the Torkham area is a major cause of the increasing number of volunteer repatriation of Afghan refugees as they now cannot move across the border freely. Earlier, the refugees used to travel to Afghanistan for meeting relatives or trade without any check or documentation.

Cracking down on illegal refugees who had no Proof of Registration Card also expedited the process of repatriation.  The law enforcement agencies have also allegedly started harassing the registered refugees due to security reason,  also a factor for large number of the repatriation.  “Checking of the refugees was due to the security reason and then finding out unregistered cases in not possible if you don’t check the refugees,” an official  told CRSS on the condition of anonymity.

Abdul Qadir 33, who along with his 7-member family recently returned to Kabul after 20 years in Islamabad, said that difficulties in the cross border movement and the police attitude “forced or motivated us” to volunteer for repatriation.

Haroon 28, whose family is planning to return to Kabul in March next year, said that he knows Peshawar or Islamabad better than Kabul and he feels as he would be quitting his own country for Afghanistan. He also pointed out that his family members are facing difficulties in crossing the border every time to meet relatives and it may be a factor that they are no more willing to live in Pakistan.

According to UNHCR, more than 185,000 of the refugees were repatriated after July, with nearly 98,000 crossing the border in September alone.

“Pakistan is no more good for our stay as due to security checks even our business sometime came under pressure”, said an Afghan hotel-owner in Islamabad.

The hotel’s owner said that the bigger problem is that the poor refugees may face issues in rehabilitation in Afghanistan.

When asked for his official version, Afghan Ambassador in Pakistan Omer Zakhilwal said that no doubt Afghanistan is a poor country at the moment but the Afghan government is taking steps for facilitating the Refugees with the support of the international community.

“In Brussels the return of the refugees was an important issue and pledges were made, this year we kept $20 million in addition to other resources, UNHCR is paying $400 per person and pays almost $10,000 a month, some companies were also involved in rehabilitation of the refugees and the government is paying the expenses involved,” he said adding that more measures are being planned.

On average,  5000 refugees are being repatriated every day and between October 5 and 6 about 7000 refugees has returned, the UNHCR officials said.

In 2006-7, in Pakistan 2.15 million Afghan refugees were registered. the UNHCR spokesperson said that now 1.4 million Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan.

The author Imdad Hussain is a senior research fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS).

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