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Repatriation package for Afghan refugees to be doubled

Bureau Report 2016-06-24
PESHAWAR: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has announced that the repatriation package for Afghan refugees will be doubled to make the process of their return to Afghanistan more attractive.

`The UN agency has decided to double the repatriation package for the refugees to make it more attractive,` he said while giving a statement to the media at a ceremony in Daag Behsud area of Nowshera district on Thursday.

The UN agency is currently paying $200 per head to those refugees who are returning to their homes under a voluntary repatriation programme. Despite such payments, return from Pakistan is extremely slow and more or less 4,000 refugees have gone back to their country since January this year.

The high commissioner urged the Afghan government to create better conditions in the country for the return of refugees as well as internally displaced persons. But he also requested Islamabad to continue to be patiently hosting Afghan refugees.

`We have to be strategically patient, waiting for Afghanistan to consolidate,` said Mr Grandi who inaugurated a rehabilitated government-run primary school for girls in Daag Behsud.

The school where 900 locals and 200 Afghan refugees were studying has been rehabilitated under the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (R AHA) programme. The German government had funded the school rehabilitation work.

The ceremony was attended by provincial Minister for Elementary and Secondary Education Mohammad Atif Khan, Afghan Consul General Dr Abdullah Waheed Poyan, diplomats from the German Embassy, chief commissioner refugees Dr Imran Zeb and representatives of UN agencies. Mr Grandi is in Pakistan to discuss the future of around 1.5 million documented Afghan refugees with the government functionaries in Islamabad.

Legal status of registered refugees will expireon June 30 and the federal government is likely to give another six months extension.

The high commissioner emphasised on voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees to their homes. `The best solution for the Afghan refugees is to return voluntarily to their homes,` he said. Mr Grandi said unfortunately there was a decline in international attention as well as resources for the support of Afghan refugees. `Please don`t forget this unresolved displacement problems,` he urged the international community.

Peace in Afghanistan and in the whole region was linked to the resolution of the refugees issue, he added.

The high commissioner said the world should not forget the 37-year-long hospitality of the people of Pakistan and Iran, especially communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who had hosted the largest number of refugees.

The high commissioner also visited a voluntary repatriation centre near Peshawar and met elders of Afghan refugees.

Reuters adds: Mr Grandi urged Pakistanis not to blame Afghan refugees for terrorism in their country, amid growing public calls for their deportation and worsening relations between the two neighbours.

Warning that the roughly 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan risked becoming a `forgotten` crisis, Mr Grandi called on the international community to invest more funds to help them.

`My appeal is that, not only to the authorities but also to the local population: refugees as you know are not terrorists,` he added.

Pakistani officials have recently hinted at the possibility of deporting Afghan refugees, amid tense relations with Kabul.

A decision to renew their legal status by June 30 has not yet been announce d, although past deadlines have been extended at the last minute.

Mr Grandi said he had made the case for extending the June 30 deadline to the government in talks during his two-day visit to Pakistan.

He also stressed the need for the international community to fund efforts to support Afghan refugees.

`I have come here to the region on the week of World Refugee Day to highlight that Afghan refugees should not be forgotten,` he said.