UNHCR opens new repatriation centre in KP
KABUL (Pajhwok): The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) on Wednesday inaugurated its second voluntary repatriation centre in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to facilitate the return of Afghan refugees to Afghanistan.
The new centre in Azakhel area of Nowshera district, about 40 kilometres east of Peshawar, will enhance UNHCR capacity to facilitate the return of up to 10,000 refugees a day through the Torkham border crossing.
A high-level delegation comprising of ambassadors of Afghanistan, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, European Union, Charge d’Affaires of the Netherlands, head of ECHO Pakistan, Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees, Dr. Imran Zeb Khan and UNHCR Representative Indrika Ratwatte attended the inauguration ceremony.
Ratwatte commended the government of Pakistan for extending the stay of Afghans refugee in Pakistan until 31 March 2017. Ratwatte said: “The extension is an important decision by the Government of Pakistan which recognises the importance of policies to manage the legal stay of registered Afghans in Pakistan.”
Imran Zeb Khan said: “The Government of Pakistan has ensured that the repatriation remains voluntary and that returns are conducted in safety and dignity.”
Dr. Zeb also acknowledged the commitment and ownership of Afghanistan to facilitate the repatriation of Afghans and the steps taken to enable their sustainable reintegration.
Welcoming the returnees to Afghanistan, Omar Zakhilwal encouraged Afghan refugees to return to their homeland “despite the challenges and to join the nation-building process.”
He also said the repatriation remained voluntary and the fact that Afghan refugees were returning of their free will demonstrated confidence in the efforts of the national unity government.
The delegation visited Chamkani in Peshawar and the newly operational Azakhel centres and met with elders of the Afghan Refugee Shura, talking to people about their time spent in Pakistan and their return to Afghanistan.
The repatriation centres in Azakhel and Chamkani are supported by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).
UNHCR has acquired additional land for the increased numbers of vehicles onsite and has also established dedicated spaces for children in both locations.
Since 2002, UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme has helped nearly 3.9 million Afghans return home from Pakistan.
Around 167,228 registered Afghan refugees have returned home from Pakistan so far in 2016.
Since July 2016, there has been an increase in the number of Afghans voluntarily repatriating to Afghanistan.
The spike in returns coincides with the introduction of tighter border management controls at the Torkham border between Pakistan and Afghanistan on June 1. Afghans now need valid passports and visas in order to enter Pakistan.
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