Islamabad agrees to review deadline for Afghan refugees’ return
The news website Dawn.Com reported flexibility on the part of Pakistan, which had been adamantly opposed to an extension in the deadline, was evident in a joint statement issued at the end of a tripartite meeting.
Representatives of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Afghanistan and Pakistan attended the 25th tripartite meeting in Islamabad two days back.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said during a meeting with Afghan Refugees Minister Syed Hussain Alami Balkhi: “The two countries should closely engage with the UNHCR for devising a realistic roadmap for repatriation of the refugees.”
Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UNHCR have agreed to work together for formulating a “comprehensive plan” containing “realistic timelines” for the repatriation of refugees, according to the joint communiqué of the tripartite meeting.
The earlier decision of not extending the Dec 31 deadline had been unilaterally taken by Pakistan in January this year. It is believed that recent improvements in Pak-Afghan ties have made Islamabad soften its position.
There are about 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. The number of unregistered refugees is believed to be close to 1m.
The new policy on Afghan refugees is to be formulated latest by August, the declaration said, adding that it would contain the return programme based on ground realities and the absorption capacity of Afghanistan.
The policy is likely to be presented for approval at the next meeting of the tripartite commission in Kabul in August.
The three sides further agreed to discuss the issue of renewal of proof of registration cards for the refugees expiring on Dec 31 and extension of the tripartite agreement during the consultations on the return policy.
There was further consensus on taking timely decisions on the issues related to the future of refugees so that “uncertainty towards the end of year” could be avoided.
Meanwhile, on the issue of documenting unregistered refugees, it was decided that a six-member committee would work out modalities in this regard. The committee has been given an ambitious timeline of documenting over 1m unregistered refugees in four months.
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