Pakistan: UNHCR chief wraps up three-day visit
Yesterday (Thursday), High Commissioner António Guterres completed a three-day visit to Pakistan during which the government agreed to review its Afghan repatriation strategy beyond 2009. Both parties agreed that it will take more time for Afghan refugees to be able to repatriate in a dignified and sustainable way. Both parties also agreed to appeal for funds for projects to develop refugee-hosting areas in Pakistan - such as in selected districts in Balochistan and in the North West Frontier Province.
During his visit of August 26-28, Guterres met with Pakistan's leaders, including Prime Minister Syed Yousef Raza Gilani and the Minister of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), Najmuddin Khan. He also met top officials from the Foreign and Interior Ministries.The High Commissioner thanked the people and government of Pakistan for hosting the world's largest refugee population for nearly 30 years, and stressed that the protracted Afghan situation is among his top priorities this year. More than 1.8 million registered Afghans are living in Pakistan today.
Both Guterres and the Pakistan government reiterated their commitment to the voluntary and gradual spirit of repatriation. Based on the ground realities, the government agreed to review its repatriation strategy beyond 2009. Since UNHCR started assisting voluntary returns to Afghanistan in 2002, more than 3.4 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan.
The UN refugee agency is currently working on a comprehensive strategy for the Afghan situation that involves assisting the host communities in Pakistan, continuing to support voluntary repatriation and reintegration, while keeping in mind the security and socio-economic challenges in Afghanistan.
As part of efforts to improve reintegration opportunities for returnees in Afghanistan, an International Conference on Return and Reintegration will be held in Kabul in mid-November. Co-organised by the Afghan government and UNHCR, the event will seek to mobilise support for the refugees, returnees and internally displaced people (IDPs) sector strategy under the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.
While in Pakistan, the High Commissioner presented a pilot project proposal for selected areas in Balochistan and North West Frontier Province that are affected by the long presence of refugees. The refugee affected and hosting areas (RAHA) initiative will involve rehabilitating and upgrading infrastructure and services in the sectors of water, sanitation, health care, primary education, environment and livelihood. An appeal will soon be launched to raise US$135 million needed for this One UN joint programme.