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Chamberlin completes Pakistan visit with registration deal for Afghans

Chamberlin completes Pakistan visit with registration deal for Afghans

Deputy High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin has ended her six-day visit to Pakistan after witnessing the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the government and UNHCR on the registration of Afghans in Pakistan, seen as a tool to help plan for the future of this population.
21 April 2006
Deputy High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin holding a possible "future President of Afghanistan" – a young Afghan returning from Peshawar in north-western Pakistan.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, April 21 (UNHCR) - UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin got a glimpse into the future of exiled Afghans before her six-day visit to Pakistan ended on Friday.

"One day, you could be the President of Afghanistan," she said, bouncing a baby boy on her knees at the Hayatabad Iris Verification Centre in Peshawar, North-West Frontier Province. Chamberlin was seeing off a 38-truck convoy of Afghans embarking on the last leg of their long journey home on Thursday.

"For me this is a very emotional and happy time," she told the returning Afghans. "Because we are able to share with you a day that is so important. A day that you and your families looked forward to for so many years - the day you get to go home."

While UNHCR has helped more than 2.7 million Afghans repatriate from Pakistan since 2002, "there are still many hundreds of thousands left in this country," said the Deputy High Commissioner at a press conference in Islamabad Wednesday. "They have an aspiration too: like anyone else, they want to go home. UNHCR and the Pakistani government are helping them, but they must go home voluntarily, with dignity."

The solution was to register and document them, she said, at a signing on Wednesday of a Memorandum of Understanding on the registration of Afghan citizens in Pakistan by the government of Pakistan and the UN refugee agency.

"Together with the Pakistan government, we will be registering and providing documents to the Afghans in this country," said Chamberlin. "We need to know who they are and what their aspirations are so that comprehensive solutions can be found for them."

Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind, Minister of the States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) overseeing refugee issues in Pakistan, added: "This is a big step not just for Pakistan, but also Afghanistan. The registration will give us a clear profile of Afghans in Pakistan, and allow both governments to develop policies for voluntary repatriation and manage the future of this population."

Scheduled to start later this year, the US$6-million registration exercise is a follow-up of the government census of March 2005 that counted 3.04 million Afghans living in Pakistan. Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) will conduct the registration using fingerprint biometrics and photo IDs, and issue Proof of Registration (PoR) cards to the registered Afghans.

"Registration is part of the bigger repatriation process," said Chamberlin. "We have interlinked registration to their return. Once the Afghans cross the border into Afghanistan, their registration with us will end and the PoR card will be invalidated."

She added that the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR will all have important roles to play in the de-registration process.

Back in Afghanistan, the data collected in the registration will also help the Afghan government to better plan regional development in potential areas of return. It will also help the government make the best use of the skills returnees have, for example, by identifying teachers and doctors, in the nation-building process.

Dr. Najeeb Ur Rahman, 36, is one such candidate. He arrived in Pakistan in 1995 after fleeing insecurity in Kabul. For four years, he practised medicine in Katchagari camp and taught in an Afghan school in Peshawar. In 1999, he went back to assess the situation. "It was bad. It was still the Taliban time and there were no schools or jobs," he recalled.

So he came back to Peshawar and worked in a hospital. When his contract expired last year, he headed home again in search of work, finally finding a job as a translator/editor for a non-governmental organization in Kabul. He immediately came back to get his wife and son - for the last time.

"When we first moved to Pakistan, we thought we would stay one or two months, but the circumstances at home changed," said Dr. Ur Rahman at Hayatabad Iris Validation Centre on Thursday. "We've been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. We are very happy today."

The doctor joined 23,778 other Afghans who have repatriated from Pakistan so far this year. About 450,000 returned home last year, leaving some 2.6 million Afghans still living in Pakistan today.

During her visit this week, the Deputy High Commissioner met with the Pakistani President, Prime Minister and other top officials to discuss the future of the remaining Afghans. She also met with donors and partner agencies in the agency's refugee and earthquake operations before returning to Geneva on Friday.

By Vivian Tan in Peshawar, Pakistan