ISLAMABAD: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres begins on Monday a three-day Ramadan Solidarity mission to Pakistan, where he will express his appreciation and solidarity with the people and Government of Pakistan for having generously hosted the world’s largest protracted refugee population for over 35-years in line with the Islamic values and the long-standing tradition of hospitality.
This is the seventh visit of the High Commissioner to Pakistan in the past 10 years of his tenure/in office , which will enable him to get a first-hand look at the largest ongoing repatriation operation in UNHCR’s history, meet with Afghan refugees and visit one of the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) projects. Since 2002, more than 3.8 million Afghan refugees have returned home from Pakistan with the assistance of the international community. During his stay, the High Commissioner is also expected to meet with the top leadership of the country, the provincial Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as the largest refugee hosting province, donors and UN and NGO partners.
Mr. Guterres will be discussing the way forward on lasting solutions and the management for Afghan refugees, in particular prospects for their sustainable return and reintegration; an issue that is inevitably linked to Afghanistan’s absorption capacity and broader development. On Tuesday, he will travel to Peshawar, where he will meet refugees returning to Afghanistan.
Mr. Guterres’ visit comes at a time when fresh emergencies in the Middle East and Africa continue to engage global attention while the future of some 2.6 million Afghan refugees who have been living outside their country for over three decades still hangs in the balance. Up to 92 countries have provided for Afghans in need of refuge, but around 95 per cent of the Afghan refugees worldwide are hosted by just two countries: Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Pakistan is hosting 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees; 67 per cent live in urban or rural areas, while 33 per cent reside in 76 refugee villages. In addition, there are an estimated 1 million undocumented Afghans in Pakistan.
Before coming to Pakistan, the High Commissioner paid a visit to Afghanistan in May, where he held fruitful and forward-looking discussions with the country’s new top leadership. While cognisant of the challenges, the High Commissioner is optimistic about the gradual stabilization in Afghanistan; it’s improving bilateral relations with Pakistan, as well as concrete steps taken by the new Afghan administration at the highest level to demonstrate ownership and genuine commitment to resolving the long-standing displacement situation. These positive developments have created a sense of renewed optimism, credibility and space for constructive negotiations between the two governments on a number of issues of mutual interest, including importantly solutions for refugees.