IRIN - Over 100,000 Afghans living and working in Pakistan without refugee cards will not be “unilaterally and hastily” deported to Afghanistan, a senior Pakistani official said at the end of a tripartite meeting of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan on 21 November in Kabul.
Of the estimated 300,000 Afghans who could not get a refugee identity card through a Pakistan government registration process in late 2006, about 200,000 have already returned to Afghanistan, said Rauf Khan, chief commissioner for Afghan refugees in Islamabad, Pakistan.
“The government of Pakistan considers undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan illegal aliens who are liable to be deported and sent back to their home country,” Rauf said.
However, Pakistan’s Secretary of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, Muhammad Jamil, who also attended the tripartite meeting, said undocumented Afghans would not be expelled without prior consultation with the Afghan authorities.
“We fully understand the problems of the Afghan government and we do not want to add to them by a mass deportation of Afghan citizens from Pakistan,” Jamil told IRIN.
Sharing a long porous border with Afghanistan, Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees in the past 25 years and is currently home to over two million registered Afghan refugees.
Since 2002 over three million Afghan refugees have returned home from Pakistan, according to the UNHCR.
Afghan officials praise Pakistan for its receptive treatment of Afghan refugees.
“Soft behaviour”, however, does not imply that Pakistan has any plans to absorb Afghan refugees permanently, Jamil emphasised.
“Afghan refugees are a big burden on our economy, environment and infrastructure,” said Jamil. “Our ultimate target is a dignified and gradual repatriation of all Afghans living in Pakistan,” he said.
Insecurity in Afghanistan affecting rate of return
The UNHCR says growing insecurity in Afghanistan has had a negative impact on the voluntary return of Afghans from Pakistan.
Fewer Afghan refugees voluntarily returned from Pakistan in 2007 than any time since UN-assisted repatriation started in 2002, the UNHCR said.
Insecurity has also restricted the UN’s ability to reach and assist returning refugees in Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas.
“The UNHCR’s access has decreased to just 55 percent of the country,” the organisation said in a statement on 21 November.
Insecurity and aid agencies’ limited access to all parts of Afghanistan will not defer the closing of the remaining three refugee camps in Pakistan, agreed to take place in 2008.
According to UNHCR, Afghan refugees living in Jalozai camp in North West Frontier Province and Girdi Jungle and Jungle Pir Alizai camps in Balochistan Province will have the option to either return to Afghanistan or move to other locations in Pakistan, after the camps’ closure.