UNHCR and Pakistan sign new agreement on stay of Afghan refugees

News Stories, 13 March 2009

© UNHCR/A.Shahzad
Minister of States and Frontier Regions Najamuddin Khan and UNHCR Representative Guenet Guebre-Christos sign the agreement on Afghan refugees.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 13 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and the Pakistani government on Friday signed an agreement to extend the stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan until the end of 2012.

The letter of mutual intent was signed in Islamabad by UNHCR Representative Guenet Guebre-Christos and Minister of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Najamuddin Khan.

It sets out measures to be taken regarding the temporary stay of Afghans in Pakistan, their gradual and voluntary repatriation, and international support to Pakistan for hosting one of the largest refugee populations in the world.

There are currently some 1.7 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, with 45 percent residing in refugee villages and the rest scattered among host communities.

Under the new agreement, SAFRON will take measures to extend the validity of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards issued to Afghan citizens living in Pakistan until the end of 2012. The current PoR cards, issued during an extensive registration exercise in 2006, are due to expire at the end of this year.

In addition, the ministry undertakes to revise the government's current strategy for the management of Afghans living in Pakistan beyond 2009 and to support the extension of the current tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan until the end of 2012.

Welcoming the agreement, UNHCR's Guebre-Christos said the agency was committed to supporting the safe, voluntary and gradual repatriation of Afghans at a pace that recognizes the current reintegration challenges in Afghanistan.

"This is a responsible move by Pakistan, which recognizes both the realities on the ground in Afghanistan and the importance of robust systems to legalize and manage the temporary stay of Afghans in Pakistan," she said.

UNHCR has also agreed to raise funds to support the Registration Information Project of Afghan Citizens (RIPAC) to improve the quality of registration data and to update and correct the PoR cards so that information about the Afghan population remains current.

In addition, UNHCR will engage the international community to fund the US$140 million Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) programme benefitting Afghans and Pakistanis over five years. Under RAHA, UNHCR and its UN partners will support development projects in 21 districts of Pakistan, mostly in Balochistan and North West Frontier Province, which together have hosted most of the Afghan refugees in the country.

Development projects under the RAHA scheme will help people rebuild livelihoods, boost employment prospects, revive agricultural and irrigation systems, and repair rural roads. Other aspects of the programme will improve health and education services, and restore the environment in those areas most affected by the hosting of refugees.

Today's signing builds upon previous agreements within the tripartite framework, including the 16th meeting here in August 2008, which acknowledged that future planning for the voluntary return of registered Afghan refugees should reflect reintegration challenges and ground realities in Afghanistan.

Since 2002, almost 3.5 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan with UNHCR assistance. Overall, some 4.3 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan, Iran, and other countries with the agency's help.

By Ariane Rummery in Islamabad, Pakistan




UNHCR country pages

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

Home Without Land

Land is hot property in mountainous Afghanistan, and the lack of it is a major reason Afghans in exile do not want to return.

Although landless returnees are eligible for the Afghan government's land allocation scheme, demand far outstrips supply. By the end of 2007, the authorities were developing 14 settlements countrywide. Nearly 300,000 returnee families had applied for land, out of which 61,000 had been selected and 3,400 families had actually moved into the settlements.

Desperate returnees sometimes have to camp in open areas or squat in abandoned buildings. Others occupy disputed land where aid agencies are not allowed to build permanent structures such as wells or schools.

One resilient community planted itself in a desert area called Tangi in eastern Afghanistan. With help from the Afghan private sector and the international community, water, homes, mosques and other facilities have sprouted – proof that the right investment and commitment can turn barren land into the good earth.

Posted on 31 January 2008

Home Without Land

Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Pakistan: Helping the HostsPlay video

Pakistan: Helping the Hosts

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan's Balochistan province have access to schools and basic services, but the cost is not easy to bear.
Afghanistan HomecomingPlay video

Afghanistan Homecoming

Since 2002, UNHCR has helped nearly 4 million Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan. Recently, Ahmed Shafiq made the journey with his family after 15 years as a refugee. This is his story.