Afghan registration in Pakistan tops 2 million mark
The number of Afghans registered by the government of Pakistan with support from UNHCR will pass the 2 million mark today following the resumption of the registration operation after the break for Ashura and Muharram.
The 2 million people registered since the start of the exercise in October 2006 account for over 80 percent of the target population of 2.4 million Afghans in Pakistan. Nearly 65 percent of those registered are in North West Frontier Province (NWFP); 20 percent in Balochistan; 10 percent in Punjab/Islamabad; 5 percent in Sindh and the rest in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (AJK). Registration is conducted by Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) with help from the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR) and UNHCR.
The exercise has been completed in large parts of the country. It is scheduled to finish by mid-February in the remaining sites in Islamabad, NWFP and Balochistan.
Only Afghans who were counted in the Pakistan government census of February/March 2005 are eligible for registration. Those registered receive Proof of Registration (POR) cards that recognize them as Afghan citizens temporarily living in Pakistan. The PoR cards have a validity of three years.
UNHCR estimates that some 2.4 million Afghans remain in Pakistan, 70 percent of them women, children and the elderly. Approximately 60 percent are living in Pakistan's cities and towns, while the remainder live in 85 refugee villages and settlements, mostly in NWFP and Balochistan.
UNHCR, in close cooperation with the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, has supported major voluntary repatriation movements since 2002. Over the past five years, 4.8 million Afghans have returned home, predominantly from Iran and Pakistan. A total of 3.7 million of them returned with UNHCR assistance. Of these, 2.8 million have returned from Pakistan.
To assist the policies, planning and implementation of voluntary repatriation programmes, UNHCR and the governments have established Tripartite Commissions which meet on a regular basis. The next Tripartite Commission meeting with Afghanistan and Pakistan is set for 6-7 February in Lahore, Pakistan.
After four years of exceptionally high repatriation levels, the assisted return figures (139,000) in 2006 from both Pakistan and Iran decreased significantly. In UNHCR's view, there are three main factors contributing to this trend - the fact that 80 percent of the remaining Afghan population in those two countries has now been in exile for more than 20 years; the limited absorption capacity of Afghanistan's economy; and the recent rise in insecurity in provinces from where many Afghans originate.