With the voluntary return of approximately 3.9 million Afghan refugees since 2002 until now, Pakistan remains home to some 1.5 million Afghan refugees, which is the world’s largest protracted refugee population.
Pakistan still hosts nearly 1.5 registered Afghan refugees, still the largest protracted refugee population globally, said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Pakistan also hosts around 1 million un-registered Afghan refugees who documentation is likely to begin in weeks.
The fresh repatriation has taken place at a time when the Afghan government has sought a two-year extension in the stay of the registered Afghan refugees. Their Proof of Registration cards, which allow them to stay in Pakistan, will expire on Aug. 31 this year.
The UNHCR said as part of its facilitated group return initiative, it assisted a group of 550 registered Afghan refugees return to Herat from its voluntary repatriation center in Pakistan ‘s Balochistan province that borders Afghanistan. The total number of refugees returned through Balochistan has amounted to 9,000 so far this year, which makes 10 percent of the total returns from Pakistan.
Of the total 50,433 registered refugees who returned with UNHCR assistance, 34 percent returned to the northern region of Afghanistan, 31 percent went to the central regions while 19 percent returned to the eastern region.
Dinesh Lal Shrestha, head of UNHCR in Balochistan, said “voluntary repatriation is a cornerstone of the Solution Strategy for Afghan Refugees.”
She hoped that with the formation of the National Unity Government and gradual political stability and better livelihood prospects in some parts of Afghanistan, more refugees might opt to voluntarily repatriate to Afghanistan.
At the 26th meeting of the tripartite commission in Kabul last Friday, the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan and UNHCR once again reiterated their commitment to the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees, in safety and with dignity, based on considerations regarding the absorption capacity of Afghanistan. The parties agreed that voluntary repatriation continued to be the preferred durable solution for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR’s representative in Pakistan, commended the continuous generosity of Pakistan for extending support to the millions of Afghan refugees in the country and highlighted the need for repatriation to be voluntary, in safety and with dignity, to ensure sustainable reintegration.