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UNHCR appeals for temporary suspension of Jalozai camp closure in Pakistan

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UNHCR appeals for temporary suspension of Jalozai camp closure in Pakistan

22 August 2007

Wednesday 22 August 2007

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency has appealed to the Government of Pakistan to temporarily suspend the closure of Jalozai camp in the country's North West Frontier Province (NWFP). With only six working days to go before the formal closure date, UNHCR is deeply concerned that at this late stage of the repatriation season, tens of thousands of Afghans are being pressured into leaving in a manner that will lead to a humanitarian crisis this winter.

Under the Tripartite Agreement signed recently in Islamabad on 2 August, the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR agreed that repatriation should be voluntary and gradual. They also agreed that the 2007 closure of the four refugee camps - Kacha Gari and Jalozai in NWFP, and Jungle Pir Alizai and Girdi Jungle in Balochistan - should take into account the security conditions and absorption capacity in Afghanistan.

Kacha Gari camp was finally closed at the end of July following several months of preparatory work. The measured approach contributed to the peaceful conclusion of the exercise during which almost 40,000 Afghans from the camp returned to Afghanistan.

The 31 August deadline for the closure of Jalozai was exceptionally agreed to earlier this year at a meeting of the Tripartite Commission. The original agreed closure deadline was the 15 July. This date was chosen on the basis that it would provide sufficient opportunity for camp residents to settle down in Afghanistan. Previous camp closures carried out late in the year have resulted in secondary internal displacement and returnee families living in inadequate makeshift shelters over the winter.

Jalozai has a population of over 100,000 people, almost double that of Kacha Gari. UNHCR considers that given the very short deadline before the end of the month, it will now be impossible to manage a safe, voluntary, and sustainable repatriation operation from Jalozai.

Under the camp closure agreement, Afghans can choose either to repatriate to Afghanistan or to relocate to existing camps within Pakistan proposed by the government. So far this year only 7,000 residents of Jalozai have chosen to return voluntarily to Afghanistan. No one has so far opted to move to the relocation sites.

In accordance with the agreement on the registration of Afghans reached in April 2006 between Pakistan and UNHCR, those holding Proof of Registration (PoR) cards can stay in Pakistan until the end of 2009.

UNHCR has asked Pakistan to consider temporarily suspending the closure of Jalozai until 2008 in order to permit a more dignified and controlled conclusion to the process. It believes such a strong humanitarian gesture ahead of the holy month of Ramadan and winter would underline once again the extraordinary generosity and hospitality of the Pakistan towards the Afghan refugee population.