High-level delegation meets returning Afghan refugees at Voluntary Repatriation Centres in Nowshera and Peshawar
NOWSHERA: The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) inaugurated the agency’s second voluntary repatriation centre Wednesday, in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to facilitate the safe and dignified return of Afghan refugees to Afghanistan.
With the opening of the new centre in Azakhel, Nowshera, about 40 kilometres east of Peshawar, UNHCR now has the capacity to facilitate the return of up to 10,000 refugees every day through the Torkham border crossing.
A high-level delegation comprising of the ambassadors of Afghanistan, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, European Union, Charge d’Affaires of the Netherlands, head of ECHO Pakistan, Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees, Dr. Imran Zeb Khan and UNHCR Representative, Mr. Indrika Ratwatte attended the inauguration ceremony held at Azakhel repatriation centre.
UNHCR Representative in Pakistan, Indrika Ratwatte commended the Government of Pakistan for extending the stay of Afghans refugee in Pakistan until 31 March 2017. Ratwatte said: “The extension is an important decision by the Government of Pakistan which recognises the importance of policies to manage the legal stay of registered Afghans in Pakistan.”
Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees, Dr. Imran Zeb Khan said: “The Government of Pakistan has ensured that the repatriation remains voluntary and that returns are conducted in safety and dignity.” Dr. Zeb also acknowledged the commitment and ownership of Afghanistan to facilitate the repatriation of Afghans and the steps taken to enable their sustainable reintegration.
Welcoming the returnees to Afghanistan, Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan, Dr. Omar Zakhilwal encouraged Afghan refugees to return to their homeland “despite the challenges and to join the nation-building process.” Zakhilwal also said: “the repatriation remains voluntary and the fact that Afghan refugees are returning of their free will demonstrates confidence in the efforts of the national unity government.”
The visiting delegation visited Chamkani, in Peshawar and the newly operational Azakhel centres and met with elders of the Afghan Refugee Shura talking to people about their time spent in Pakistan and their return to Afghanistan.
The repatriation centres in Azakhel and Chamkani are supported by Canada, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden, the United States of America and private donors from a number of countries.