UNHCR welcomes extension of stay for Afghan refugees in Pakistan

Briefing Notes, 2 July 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 2 July 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes Pakistan's renewal of its commitment to providing protection and safety for over 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees.

Pakistan's new minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), Abdul Qadir Baloch, announced on Friday at a tripartite meeting with the Government of Afghanistan and UNHCR in Kabul that his country would extend refugee cards for Afghans, known as proof of registration (PoR) cards. The cards had been due to expire on June 30.

Pakistan remains the world's largest refugee hosting nation, and has generously hosted millions of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of 1979.

The announcement by the States and Frontier Regions minister comes as Pakistan is finalizing a new national policy for Afghan refugees. The new policy is expected to be adopted soon by the Cabinet and includes recommendations for extension of PoR cards and continuation of a tri-partite arrangement between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and UNHCR governing voluntary returns of Afghan refugees.

UNHCR looks forward to the adoption of the new policy, as it provides a domestic framework for Pakistan's commitment to implement in letter and spirit the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees a regional policy arrangement between the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and UNHCR to find solutions for one of the world's largest and most protracted refugee situations. The strategy, endorsed by an international gathering in Geneva in May 2012, supports repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries.

Extension of PoR cards will help end current uncertainty among Afghan refugees in Pakistan over their status. As an interim measure, we are encouraged to see an instruction from Minister Baloch's office sent to various authorities in Pakistan, including law enforcement authorities, asking them to respect existing refugee cards until the Cabinet decides on the new national policy, including extension of PoR cards.

UNHCR remains engaged with the governments of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan in facilitating voluntary returns and managing the stay of Afghan refugees, who need continued international protection in neighbouring countries. We also work to support the sustainable reintegration of Afghans who decide to voluntarily return to their country. In Pakistan, UNHCR and our partners remain engaged to develop infrastructure and improve services in refugee-affected and hosting areas, where communities have lived together with Afghan refugees for over three decades now.

As voluntary returns continue to take place, UNHCR is considering an increase in the return grant from US$150 to $200 for each Afghan refugee returning home, paid inside Afghanistan. Since 2002, UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme has helped nearly 4.8 million Afghans return home (3.8 million from Pakistan and around a million from Iran). Around 22,000 Afghans have returned home from Pakistan so far this year.

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