|An Afghan refugee sells goods at a shop in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Dec. 6, 2012. The UN refugee agency said Wednesday that nearly 83,000 Afghan refugees have returned home this year through its assisted voluntary repatriation program, a 24 percent increase from 2011. (Xinhua/Umar Qayyum)
ISLAMABAD, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- The UN refugee agency said Wednesday that nearly 83,000 Afghan refugees have returned home this year through its assisted voluntary repatriation program, a 24 percent increase from 2011.
In November this year, more than 8,200 refugees returned from Pakistan, compared with some 3,000 a year earlier. However, Pakistan is still hosting some 1.65 million Afghan refugees and another 1 million undocumented Afghans, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
Voluntary repatriation remains the UNHCR's preferred solution globally for most refugees. Since 2002, around 5.7 million Afghan refugees have returned to their home country, constituting nearly a quarter of the country's population. Nevertheless, Pakistan and Iran are still generously hosting some 2.7 million Afghan refugees after three decades, a UNHCR statement said.
The Pakistani government is holding informal consultations to formulate the policy beyond Dec. 31, 2012, a date set for the Afghan refugees to return homes.
Pakistan has issued Proof of Registration Cards (PoRs) to Afghan refugees that will expire on Dec. 31 and the government has not yet decided to extend its period. Pakistan said that it will treat all Afghan refugees as illegal immigrants after the expiry of PoRs.
Pakistani Minister for States and Frontier Regions, Engineer Shaukatullah Khan, whose ministry also deals with the refugees affairs, concluded a three-day visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday and has assured the Afghan leaders that Pakistan will not forcibly expel Afghans.
The minister also called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai and expressed his commitment to the voluntary return of Afghan refugees to their homeland, while also hoping that the Pakistani government will soon agree to a mechanism in this respect for voluntary and dignified return. During this meeting, emphasis was made on the voluntary nature of return by the president, the UNHCR said.
The minister also saw first-hand the implementation of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Returnees (SSAR) in Afghanistan, and the conditions in which refugee returns are taking place.
Together with Dr. Jamaher Anwary, minister for Refugees and Repatriation, he visited two high-return areas where they met returnees from Pakistan. They were also accompanied by representatives of the UNHCR in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Neill Wright, UNHCR representative in Pakistan.
The delegations met with recently returned refugees from Pakistan and witnessed the many needs still faced by the returnees as winter approaches, despite several already completed projects, including a new school that was under construction at the time.
Voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration are at the center of the SSAR that was endorsed at an international conference in Geneva in May 2012. "However, we need development funding and development actors to urgently become more engaged in supporting sustainable reintegration for refugees, through the implementation of this strategy, "said Dr. Anwary.