Guterres spotlights needs of Afghan refugees in Pakistan; urges donor help
UNHCR chief visits projects supported by the UN refugee agency in south-west Pakistan's Balochistan province and urges support for refugees and hosts.
LORALAI DISTRICT, Pakistan, May 1 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today called on the international community to continue supporting Afghan refugees and needy Pakistanis in host communities.
Guterres, on the last day of a three-day visit to Pakistan, also stressed the importance of ensuring continued protection for Afghan refugees in Pakistan amid political and security problems in their homeland. Pakistan currently hosts 1.6 million refugees, more than any other host country in the world.
On a visit to Loralai district of south-west Pakistan's Balochistan province, Guterres paid tribute to the generosity of Pakistan in providing refuge to so many Afghan civilians over the past three-and-a-half decades. "This is something that should be recognized by the international community, and the best way to do that is to support the most vulnerable Pakistani communities in the poorer areas of the country, who have hosted so many Afghans."
The High Commissioner told the local authorities that UNHCR would continue to support displaced Afghans in Balochistan through the refugee-affected and hosting areas (RAHA) initiative. The initiative is part of the 2012 Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR), which is aimed at finding solutions for Afghan refugees in the region over several years.
Ten UN agencies, including UNHCR, and other partners are working with the government to implement RAHA projects that improve access to basic services for Pakistanis and the refugees they are hosting. In Balochistan province, the primary focus of these projects is on education, health and social welfare for around 60,000 people.
"Pakistan has generously hosted the world's largest refugee population for so many years, and it is important to mobilize more support from the international community to sustain this great effort and to fund RAHA projects such as these," Guterres stressed.
With the support from Pakistan, UNHCR manages three refugee villages in Loralai. During his visit to the district on Thursday, Guterres and Pakistan's Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch reopened a state school for girls that was renovated with UNHCR funds. "Pakistan needs more female doctors and teachers, and this is only possible through more support for girls' education," Guterres stressed.
The High Commissioner also visited a health centre and a small carpet factory, which have both benefitted from the RAHA programme, and he took part in a ground-breaking ceremony for a US$1.2 million vocational/technical training centre for refugee and local women in the remote Loralai region. This will help people become self-sufficient.
Guterres also visited Katwai Refugee Village, one of three in Loralai. He spoke to refugees about their needs and concerns. Minister Baloch welcomed the visit and said it would "help to highlight the protracted Afghan refugee situation in the province and its impact on the host communities and socio-economic infrastructure."
While in Pakistan, the High Commissioner also launched several projects under the 2012 Solutions Strategy. He held talks on the situation of the refugees and their hosts with President Mamnoon Hussain and other top officials. Guterres celebrated his 65th birthday with UNHCR staff on Wednesday in Islamabad.