AFGHANISTAN: Over 10,000 Afghans return from Pakistan in March 2008
KABUL, 31 March 2008 (IRIN) - Since the resumption of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)-assisted voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan at the beginning of March, over 10,000 refugees have returned to their home country, UNHCR said on 31 March.
The overall repatriation trend is similar to 2006 and 2005 when 150,000-200,000 refugees returned to Afghanistan, the UNHCR said.
These numbers represent a significant decline in returnees compared to 2007, but the high rate of return in 2007 was mainly attributed to a six-week "grace period" granted to Afghans who were not registered as refugees in Pakistan but opted to receive assistance on their return to Afghanistan from March to mid-April.
According to the UNHCR in March 2007 over 40,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan.
However, the UNHCR warned that large-scale returns were unlikely: "The period of mass repatriation is over," Salvatore Lombardo, UNHCR’s representative in Afghanistan, told journalists in Kabul.
One million unregistered
In addition to over two million registered Afghan refugees living in Pakistan there are about one million who are not registered as refugees and who are, therefore, liable to deportation, Pakistani officials say.
The government of Pakistan plans to close all refugee camps and send all Afghan refugees to their home country after December 2009 - the expiry date of Afghan refugee ID cards.
At a tripartite meeting of the Afghan and Pakistan governments and the UNHCR in Dubai on 28 March the Pakistani delegation proposed the closure of 11 more refugee camps in addition to Jalozai, Girdi Jungle and Jungle Piralizai - the three largest camps - which are scheduled for closure in mid-April.
However, the UNHCR is concerned that a worsening security situation in some areas - and a difficult overall socio-economic situation - will hinder the voluntary return of refugees.
"The Pakistani delegation took our concerns [on board]," said Lombardo adding that no agreement was reached in Dubai on further camp closures.
And another million unregistered in Iran
Iran recently completed a third round of Afghan refugee identification and has issued registration cards - valid for six months - to about 950,000 refugees, Salvatore Lombardo said.
In addition to these, Iran has about one million unregistered Afghan refugees who are liable to deportation at any time, Iranian officials have repeatedly said, though in January 2008 it temporarily suspended the expulsion of Afghans on "humanitarian grounds".
However, the deportation drive is scheduled to resume in April and, according to Seyyed Taghi Ghaemi, director of the Iranian bureau for aliens and foreign immigrants, all unregistered Afghans will be expelled from Iran.
Mass deportations of Afghans in mid-2007 pushed Afghanistan into an unexpected humanitarian emergency and political crisis.
"The deportation will continue," Lombardo told IRIN. "But we have always called for it to be humane, gradual and dignified," he said.
Theme(s): (IRIN) Aid Policy, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs
Copyright © IRIN 2008
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