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Pakistan: initial screening of Afghans begins

Briefing notes

Pakistan: initial screening of Afghans begins

7 August 2001

UNHCR and Pakistan's Commission for Afghan Refugees began an initial screening programme for Afghans in Jalozai and Nasir Bagh camp yesterday, interviewing 400 heads of households in the two camps. During this stage of the operation, the Afghans will be asked to provide basic bio-data that will be used during the more in-depth interviews planned to start in about 20 days. A total of some 100,000 Afghans will be interviewed in the two sites, plus some 50,000 at the New Shamshatoo site also located in the vicinity of Peshawar, in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. A total of 30 joint teams are currently working, and additional teams will be added over the coming weeks.

UNHCR and the government of Pakistan have agreed on very broad criteria for determining the protection needs of the Afghans, based on the extended definition used in the OAU Convention reflecting the element of generalised violence. In addition to the broad criteria, UNHCR has also negotiated that there would be no immediate return for those Afghans not considered as refugees but for whom return would not be viable, this includes vulnerable persons coming from areas affected by drought or areas suffering from economically unsustainable due to the conflict.

UNHCR must focus on protection and assistance to refugees. Pakistan has sheltered millions of Afghans for decades, and still has some two million Afghans within its borders, possibly more. In the current political, social and economic environment, UNHCR is working to maintain solutions for Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, while also facilitating the return of those Afghans who wish to go home. UNHCR has stressed that Afghans who do not require the protection afforded by continued residence in Pakistan, or do not fall into one of the vulnerable or seriously drought-affected categories, should be returned in a humane manner pending the final outcome of the screening exercise.