PESHAWAR: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres expressed his appreciation and solidarity with the Government and people of Pakistan for having generously hosted the world’s largest protracted refugee population for over three decades, in line with Islamic values of hospitality and generosity. Mr. Guterres expressed these views in his meetings with the top officials here in Peshawar on Tuesday, as part of his Ramadan Solidarity mission to the country. Mr. Guterres was accompanied by the federal Minister of States and Frontier Regions, Lt. Gen. Abdul Qadir Baloch.
UNHCR’s chief appreciated the efforts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Government for hosting around a million of the total registered 1.5 million Afghan refugees in the country and for ensuring access of registered refugees to basic services (health, education), upholding the international norms and obligations.
Mr. Guterres’s visit is significant in view of the positively evolving regional environment and improving bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The High Commissioner (HC) during his day-long engagements in Peshawar visited the UNHCR’s Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Chamkani, and met with refugee families repatriating to Afghanistan. Talking to them the HC said, “Nothing is as gratifying as going back to one’s own roots and motherland after so many years in exile.”
He appreciated the KP government’s support for the voluntary repatriation programme, which is gaining momentum, and underlined the need to continue ensuring voluntariness of return, in safety and dignity. This year, so far, 42,000 Afghan refugees have voluntary repatriated under the UNHCR assisted voluntary repatriation programme, of which 22,000 went from the KP province.
In the context of the post 16 December situation and the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) the HC reassured the provincial government that, UNHCR shares the legitimate concern of state to ensure that asylum is not misused, by those supporting or committing terrorist acts. “No refugee is above the law of the host country. However, there needs to be a balance with the need to respect the rights of registered refugees.” The High Commissioner appreciated the efforts of the Government of Pakistan to ensure that registered Afghan refugees are not subject to harassment.
The HC and his delegation also visited Turkmen refugee village, where he met with Afghan carpet weavers and spent some time with them, inquiring about their wellbeing and the problems they confront. Talking to Afghan refugee elders, Minister Baloch said, “Refugees are resourceful people and more should be done to empower them so they could play positive role for the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan.”
During his day-long visit to Peshawar, Mr. Guterres was accompanied by the federal Minister of States and Frontier Regions, Lt. Gen. Abdul Qadir Baloch; UNHCR Director for Asia Bureau, Ms. Daisy Dell; UNHCR Representative in Pakistan, Indrika Ratwatte and Chief Commissioner Afghan refugees Dr. Imran Zeb Khan; Provincial commissioner Afghan refugees Waqar Maroof and Head of UNHCR Peshawar, Jacques Franquin.
The High Commissioner is currently on a three-day Ramadan Solidarity mission of Pakistan, during which he is expected to meet with the top leadership of the country to discuss issues related to the protracted Afghan refugee situation and to reassure Pakistan of UNHCR’s commitment to assist Afghanistan and Pakistan in finding permanent solutions to the world’s most protected refugee situation.