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Pakistan: Roadblock stops Afghan returns in north-west

Briefing notes

Pakistan: Roadblock stops Afghan returns in north-west

15 April 2008

UNHCR has temporarily suspended its Afghan voluntary return operation via Peshawar in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) due to a roadblock in the tribal areas leading to Afghanistan.

Fuelled by a dispute between local tribes, the blockage along the Peshawar-Torkham highway has left hundreds of home-bound Afghans stranded. Over 360 Afghan families had been processed for repatriation from Peshawar yesterday (Monday) but were unable to leave due to the roadblock. UNHCR provided 45 needy families with food, plastic sheets and blankets to help them through the night.

To prevent more families from being stranded, we suspended repatriation through Peshawar starting today. Assisted returns will resume once the road is cleared.

Today is also the deadline for the closure of Jalozai refugee village in NWFP. More than 70,000 Afghans living there have been given the options of voluntary repatriation to Afghanistan or relocation to an existing refugee village in Pakistan.

Over 3,000 have repatriated in recent weeks. More than 30 families have asked to be relocated to Kot Chandna refugee village in Punjab province. UNHCR acknowledges that Jalozai must be closed as previously agreed and that its residents must cooperate by leaving on time. Nonetheless, we hope the Pakistani government can give them a little more time in view of the current impasse on the Peshawar-Torkham road. The authorities have assured us that houses that are still occupied will not be demolished, and that basic services such as food, water and electricity will keep running until the last inhabitant leaves. We have also urged the authorities to be more proactive on relocating Afghans who cannot return to Afghanistan.

UNHCR will continue to work with the authorities to ensure that Jalozai's closure takes place in a peaceful and orderly way, and that the safety and dignity of its Afghan residents are respected.

In south-western Pakistan, assisted returns are unaffected and continue through UNHCR's Baleli Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Balochistan.