Census of Afghans in Pakistan due to start tomorrow
A two-week nationwide census of Afghans living in Pakistan is due to start tomorrow, Wednesday. The census will provide the first comprehensive picture of the Afghans who arrived in Pakistan in several different waves since their country first dissolved into war a quarter of a century ago. The registration exercise will start in Peshawar and will spread to all areas of the country over the following days. Some 2,000 government employees, in teams comprising one man and one woman, will record all Afghans who arrived in Pakistan since 1 December 1979.
In addition to providing a more accurate idea of the number of Afghans in the country, the census will record vital information such as date of arrival, place of origin in Afghanistan and place of current residence in Pakistan. It will also ask about repatriation intentions.
Pre-census estimates put the Afghan population in Pakistan at 1.2 million in the camps plus an unknown number living in urban areas. In Iran, where there are currently 960,000 Afghan refugees, verification exercises to count refugees were carried out in 2001 and 2003. Around 3.5 million Afghans have returned to their home country since UNHCR began a voluntary repatriation programme in the spring of 2002, following the fall of the Taliban the previous year.
A high-level meeting in Brussels last week, involving Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran as well as major donor governments and financial and development institutions, resulted in a clear indication of support for continued humanitarian operations in the region, including the voluntary repatriation programme.
The meeting, which was jointly hosted by UNHCR and the European Commission, also showed some signs of support for the integration of Afghans remaining in the neighbouring countries who do not wish to return to Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan - which have between them hosted millions of Afghans since the Soviet invasion in 1979 - recognized that a number of Afghans would have genuine difficulties returning to their country of origin. Discussions about the future of Afghans abroad will continue at another high-level meeting in New York later in the year.