Afghanistan, Pakistan, UNHCR welcome new policies on Afghan refugees in Pakistan and returnees to Afghanistan
KABUL: Representatives of the Governments of the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan and Pakistan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today in Kabul reaffirmed their commitment to the principle of voluntary repatriation, in safety and dignity, to end the protracted stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The parties recognized that many of those remaining in Pakistan are second and third generation refugees, for whom repatriation may pose special challenges, particularly those who have resided in urban areas for the past three decades. They reaffirmed a longstanding partnership aimed at creating conditions conducive for sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan.
Today's meeting constituted the 26th Tripartite Commission Meeting between the two governments, with the last meeting having been held in March 2015. Voluntary Repatriation constitutes part of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR), which provides a regional framework for coordinated action to resolve one of the world's most enduring forced displacement crises.
Today's meeting, which focused on aligning the respective new strategies of the two Governments, was noteworthy both for the breadth of policy proposals tabled and the renewed commitment to tackle complex return and reintegration challenges in a more coordinated and innovative manner.
"We welcome the new strategies of the two Governments, which they had committed to jointly develop at the last Tripartite Commission meeting in March 2015," said the Representative for UNHCR in Afghanistan, Ms. Maya Ameratunga. "Initiatives such as the Enhanced Voluntary Return and Reintegration Package, which needs the robust support of international donors, could dramatically increase the ability of returnees to make timely investments in shelter, livelihoods, education, and other urgent needs upon return, thereby improving their prospects for starting new lives at home. We hope that conditions in Afghanistan will continue to improve, so that Afghan refugees can have confidence that they will have better lives as citizens back in their own country."
The two countries' draft strategies found significant common ground in their overall approach, mirroring one another in recommendations for improving information-sharing mechanisms, enhancing cross-border collaboration, emphasizing the need for continuing assistance to returnees throughout the reintegration process, and recognizing the importance of gradual, phased return that takes into account conditions in Afghanistan. The Government of Pakistan committed to ensuring that Afghan refugees are protected in Pakistan until they can return home voluntarily and in safety and dignity.
The Minister of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR), Mr. Sayed Hossein Alimi Balkhi, expressed gratitude to the Government and people of Pakistan for continued support and hospitality to refugees still in Pakistan, while emphasizing Afghanistan's renewed effort for refugees to voluntarily return to their home country. "The Government of National Unity is committed to welcoming returnees home and quickly integrating them into the social and economic fabric of the country. We recognize that the majority of the refugees currently in Pakistan were born there and may face unique challenges in rebuilding their lives here. The Afghan Government's comprehensive strategy explicitly recognizes this reality, and will harness the goodwill and collective expertise across government ministries and departments and among partners to make sustainable reintegration in their homeland a reality for the 1.5 million refugees still in Pakistan. We see the enhanced cooperation and information sharing with Pakistan as an important step toward the prompt and successful reintegration of returnees."
Participants in the meeting noted that the process is a gradual one: planning by the two Governments anticipates steadily increasing interest in voluntary return during 2016 and 2017. The extension of Afghan refugees' Proof of Registration (PoR) cards, currently set to expire at the end of this year is currently being deliberated upon in Pakistan.
The Minister of States and Frontiers Regions (SAFRON), Lt. General Abdul Qadir Baloch, informed the participants of the Pakistani Government's intended consideration and discussion on the extension of the Tripartite Agreement to ensure UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation as well as the potential extension of PoR cards. He further emphasized the need for enhanced efforts to ensure sustainable return and reintegration, stressing the importance of the EVRRP. He also called for continuing support for RAHA (Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas). He noted that "RAHA initiatives remain critical to enabling the Pakistani population to continue to host 1.5 million registered Afghans."
In parallel, Mr. Baloch noted that SAFRON has launched an initiative bilaterally with the Government of Afghanistan to create a system for documenting the estimated one million undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan followed by the issuance of travel documents by the Government of Afghanistan.
The Representative for UNHCR in Pakistan, Mr. Indrika Ratwatte, underscored the distinction between the Government of Pakistan's policies for Afghan registered refugees and undocumented Afghans. "The proposal by the Government of Pakistan to consider temporary management arrangements, including the opportunity for registered refugees to voluntarily obtain Afghan travel documents through the Afghan Consulate in Pakistan is potentially an innovative way forward."
The parties discussed a number of topics including voluntary return trends, facilitated group return and mass information campaigns, go-and-see visits by Afghan refugees to gauge the prospects for return to their home country, and updates on the implementation of the SSAR.
In October, UNHCR's Executive Committee governing board of member states will feature the Afghan refugee situation as its High Level Segment at the annual conference in Geneva, in order to strengthen international resolve and mobilise political support for solutions to one of the largest and most protracted humanitarian situations under UNHCR's mandate. It is expected that many of the key topics discussed during this Tripartite Commission meeting will form the basis for collective international support in Geneva.
Muhammad Nader Farhad in Kabul +93 791990018
Duniya Aslam Khan for Pakistan: +92 300 5017939