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

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

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

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

Beyond the smiles of homecoming lie the harsh realities of return. With more than 5 million Afghans returning home since 2002, Afghanistan's absorption capacity is reaching saturation point.

Landmine awareness training at UNHCR's encashment centres – their first stop after returning from decades in exile – is a sombre reminder of the immense challenges facing this war-torn country. Many returnees and internally displaced Afghans are struggling to rebuild their lives. Some are squatting in tents in the capital, Kabul. Basic needs like shelter, land and safe drinking water are seldom met. Jobs are scarce, and long queues of men looking for work are a common sight in marketplaces.

Despite the obstacles, their spirit is strong. Returning Afghans – young and old, women and men – seem determined to do their bit for nation building, one brick at a time.

Posted on 31 January 2008

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

Croatia: Sunday Train ArrivalsPlay video

Croatia: Sunday Train Arrivals

On Sunday a train of 1800 refugees and migrants made their way north from the town of Tovarnik on Croatia's Serbian border. They disembarked at Cakovec just south of Slovenia. Most of the people are Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi. Their route to Western Europe has been stalled due to the closing of Hungarian borders. Now the people have changed their path that takes through Slovenia. Croatia granted passage to over 10,000 refugees this weekend. Croatian authorities asked Slovenia to take 5000 refugees and migrants per day. Slovenia agreed to take half that number. More than a thousand of desperate people are being backed up as result, with more expected to arrive later Monday.
Afghanistan Needs Your SupportPlay video

Afghanistan Needs Your Support

Croatia; Destination UnknownPlay video

Croatia; Destination Unknown