High Commissioner in Pakistan: Afghan census agreed
The High Commissioner for Refugees is in Islamabad today on the first leg of his visit to the region. He held meetings with high-ranking officials this morning, during which Pakistan and UNHCR formally agreed to conduct a census of all Afghans in the country during February 2005.
The census, in which all Afghans who arrived in Pakistan after 1 December 1979 must participate, will record the gender, ethnicity, address and source of livelihood of all Afghans, as well as whether or not they intend to return to Afghanistan in the next twelve months. This information will assist the Pakistani government and UNHCR in developing policies for those Afghans who do not return home before the end of the UNHCR voluntary assisted repatriation programme in March 2006.
On Wednesday, the High Commissioner will travel to Afghanistan, where he is scheduled to meet with President Hamid Karzai and several ministers in the newly-appointed Afghan Cabinet. The High Commissioner will also travel to Herat and Kandahar, to visit an area where many newly-returned refugees are living, as well as a camp for internally displaced persons. More than 3.5 million Afghan refugees have returned to their country since the start of UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme in 2002. However, the U.N. agency believes just under one million Afghans now remain in Iran, and another million are still living in refugee camps in Pakistan. An unknown but substantial number are also living in cities across the country.