Afghan Refugees in Pakistan Current Situation and Future Scenario

Afghan Refugees in Pakistan Current Situation and Future Scenario

Policy Perspectives, Vlm 3, No.2



[Pakistan, the host of millions of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion, now seeks their expeditious repatriation. The process has already started and it is one of the largest repatriation programs in the UNHCR’s history. However, around 3 million Afghans still reside in Pakistan. The article provides an overview of the underlying problems and multifaceted stumbling blocks being faced in the process. The refugees’ role vis-à-vis parliamentary elections in Afghanistan have also been discussed. Shedding light on the future scenario, the study recommends measures for UNHCR and policy actions for Pakistani authorities to deal with the issue effectively. – Editors]


By shifting from an open-door policy to that of a closed door towards refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan has changed from being a hospitable host to a country now reluctant to house the remaining refugees. Afghans in the country are facing mounting challenges as new developments, such as closure of camps and educational institutions, take place. There are pressures to repatriate as the 2002 repatriation program enters its final year. The current agreement between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) that governs voluntary repatriation was scheduled to expire in March but was extended to December 2006. More than 2.7 million Afghans have returned since 2002, while an estimated over 2 million remain in Pakistan. At least 900,000 Afghans are still estimated to be in Iran. The lack of shelter, employment and basic facilities back home are grave concerns making their return difficult.


Currently, the bulk of refugees in Pakistan are Pushtuns and they live outside the refugee camps. According to the March 2005 Census of Afghans in Pakistan[1] around 80 percent of the refugee influx occurred between 1979 and 1985. Most refugees are reluctant to go back and have voiced their intentions to stay back despite mounting pressures from the Government of Pakistan. This indicates a need for new strategies for dealing with refugees in the future.


Refugees are not a permanent phenomenon; they are expected to be repatriating once conditions return to normalcy in their home country. Refugees return as soon as circumstances permit, generally when a conflict has ended, a degree of stability has been restored, and basic infrastructure has been rebuilt. However, when the issue becomes prolonged, a complete return is not always possible, because it is the elusiveness of durable solutions that leads to a protracted refugee situation in the first place.


While repatriation is considered to be the most durable solution to refuges problems, and is being tried in the case of Afghans, comprehensive repatriation from Pakistan has not occurred. The changing nature of the Afghan conflict is gradually putting pressure on Pakistani policy-makers to look for alternative solutions.




Pakistan a developing country with a population of 150 millions anticipates the return of over 3 million Afghan refugees because they pose an enormous economic burden. Pakistan maintained a policy of temporary protection with voluntary return as the preferred option; however, the goal of comprehensive repatriation remained elusive, hostage as it was to Pakistan’s official Afghan Policy and protracted fighting in Afghanistan. Even the end of the Cold War and withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 did not result in a successful return of all Afghan refugees, although the 1990s were hailed as the “decade of repatriation” throughout the world.


Repatriation occurs when a situation improves in the home country; unless the refugees themselves perceive an improvement in ground realities, they do not opt for return. In the case of Afghans, the political and economic situation has still not improved to the extent where all refugees would want to return. Therefore, alternative strategies need to be worked out to manage the remaining refugee population.


Meanwhile, refugees’ presence has become a major concern and is gradually generating resentment in the local population. Many elements in Pakistan believe that Afghan refugees will never go back, even if the political situation in Afghanistan improves. This assumption, so far, holds true, notwithstanding the massive repatriations of 1992 and 2002. Afghans, on the other hand, say they do wish to return, but not at the risk of endangering their lives in a country where the same conditions that caused them to leave may arise again. Indeed, infighting in the country has resulted in new influxes of refugees. The porous Pak-Afghan border has made it more difficult for Pakistan to check and prevent new refugees from entering, despite the change in its policy towards them.


Repatriation Continues


Afghan repatriation continues amidst mounting challenges. It is one of the largest repatriation programs being carried in UNHCR’s history. In January 2002, UNHCR issued a draft planning document for the “Return and Reintegration of Afghan Refugees and Internally Displaced People” over a three-year period, in which it estimated that there were 2.2 million Afghan refugees then living in Pakistan and 1.5 million in Iran. It was envisaged that during 2002, with UNHCR’s assistance, 400,000 refugees would return from Pakistan and the same number from Iran. Approximately the same numbers of refugees were expected to return in 2003 and again in 2004.[2]


Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR reached an agreement in principle on a legal framework governing the return of Afghan refugees, which established, for the first time, a formal process for resolving the issue. The agreement, which was signed in October 2002 and approved by the governments in March 2003, was designed to support a gradual organized return that was sustainable.[3] Under the agreement, UNHCR would continue to assist the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan for three more years. After this period, Afghans remaining in Pakistan would undergo screening for the identification of those who might be in danger on their return and after assessing their situation they will be provided with security and protection.


A similar agreement was signed in April 2002 with Iran to provide a legal framework for the voluntary return of refugees. The agreement covered only the registered Afghans living in Iran; consequently, around 40,000 non-registered Afghan citizens were deported in 2002.[4] These agreements serve as an important legal framework for the repatriation process, and provide for regular tripartite consultations between the three parties. Similar agreements have also been signed by UNHCR and Afghanistan with the governments of France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The agreements detail joint programs under which refugees receive information about conditions in their home areas, and find out how to set about joining the repatriation program. The host states have agreed to adopt a gradual or phased approach to voluntary repatriation.


Many Afghans approved of the political developments and the repatriation program, and this resulted in their return to their home country. The reasons for return were often cited as the improved social, economic, security and human rights conditions in Afghanistan. The positive change in political security provided opportunities not seen in the past 23 years. The presence of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and many international actors in Kabul provided a level of security and economic opportunity that contributed to relative stability in the capital. It was signaled to refugees that security and peace were fast returning to Afghanistan, because of the peacekeepers and commitments of the international community to assist Afghanistan in reconstruction and reintegration of the displaced population. Secondly, there were changes in official policies and public attitudes towards the protracted presence of Afghans in the asylum countries, making their continued stay less attractive. Thirdly, there was a relative decline in employment opportunities and economic circumstances in Iran and Pakistan.


Politically, the Afghan government had to prove its credibility not only to the international community but also to its own nation. It needed the support and backing of its own population, and it knew that if refugees did not return, it would be discredited. It, therefore, had to make positive overtures to the displaced people, urging them to return to their homeland and actively participates in the reconstruction and rebuilding process. The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) was set up and it allowed UNHCR to play a leading role in Afghan repatriation. These developments soon led to a massive repatriation in the year 2002.


Under the program, nearly 1.6 million Afghans returned from Pakistan in spring 2002, followed by some 340,000 in 2003 and more than 380,000 in 2004. Spontaneous and assisted repatriation of some 300,000 Afghans left approximately 1.1 million Afghan refugees in Iran at the end of 2004. The Iranian Interior Ministry declared categorically, “We are not prepared to receive refugees any more, for budgetary reasons.” Iran estimates that every refugee costs Iran $674 a year, and that the international community shares only $6 of this burden. As a result, Iranian authorities planned to eliminate education and medical assistance to registered refugees, switching to a fee-for-service system in 2004.[5]


The Afghan government has made the return and reintegration of returning refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) an important component of its National Development Framework. It recognizes that the reintegration process is both huge and complex, and the operational environment is extremely testing. UNHCR has therefore encouraged a practical division of labor, both strategically and sectorally, to meet this challenge. This approach is based on the premise that humanitarian assistance agencies have the capacity to respond rapidly to immediate, short-term needs and, at the same time, to lobby for the early engagement of other longer-term actors for the reintegration, rehabilitation, and reconstruction phases.[6]


Refugees who opted to return in 2002 faced difficulties. UNHCR voiced satisfaction with the return of large numbers of refugees, but expressed concern that more is needed to be done to ensure their successful repatriation. “I would say Afghanistan has been very good on repatriation, but there is still the security point,” said Rudd Lubbers.[7] “There are valuable efforts and a good beginning on reintegration, but it is still too weak.”[8] It is essential that return be sustainable in order to break the cycle of displacement. Although the international community, including UNHCR, cannot and should not obstruct the individual decision of a refugee or refugee family to return, it is incumbent on those engaged in facilitating repatriation to fully inform the refugees’ decision to return; otherwise repatriation will not be sustainable and durable. Durable repatriation also requires that the government inspire trust in returnees, and provision of basic facilities as well as a secure environment.


While repatriation of large numbers became a UNHCR success story during 2002 and 2003, the program of voluntary repatriation was suspended several times in 2004: during February, when the number of returnees was minimal due to harsh winter weather; in June, when security concerns disrupted field operations in Balochistan; and then in October, when repatriation was suspended for 10 days to avoid complicating the registration of voters and for Out of Country Voting by Afghans in the presidential elections. Moreover, in the same year, UNHCR’s operations in Afghanistan remained constrained by an unstable security situation. Operational access was limited in some areas, especially in parts of the southern, southeastern and eastern regions of the country. These limitations became particularly evident when Afghan refugees living in camps in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were asked to leave or be relocated because the government had announced the closure of camps in the tribal areas.


Despite large-scale returns of refugees, repatriation remains complex in the face of growing insurgency, and poor economic and social conditions. “We’re now entering a new stage in the return and reintegration of Afghan refugees,” said Antonio Gueterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at a meeting in Kabul. “Return will continue to be the main solution for Afghans living in asylum countries, but a new approach needs to be developed, and UNHCR remains committed to finding a durable solution.”[9] There is a realization on the part of UNHCR that repatriation may not resolve the refugee problem in Pakistan. At the same time, there are critical voices of the current repatriation program signaling to refugees that they should stay back in the neighboring countries. Tom Koenigs, head of the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan and a German Greens politician, said Afghanistan was not in a position to accept more refugees. “Every extra person who comes here will only increase the poverty,” he told Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel. The economic outlook for returning Afghans was terrible, he said, with many finding their homes destroyed or occupied. “The economic opportunities for someone returning to Afghanistan are exactly zero. Some crisis nations in Africa are extremely well developed by comparison.”[10]


Regional experts speculate his comments were designed to reinvigorate the international reconstruction and security effort and to stop forceful repatriation by Iran and Pakistan, which together host 4 million Afghan refugees. The UNHCR played down any perceived rift. While admitting that many of the problems highlighted by Mr. Koenigs were accurate and needed immediate attention, a spokeswoman said surviving was “not impossible,” and returning Afghans had found ways to cope. Astrid van Genderen Stort of UNHCR’s head office in Geneva, said: “The situation is obviously very difficult, but at the same time this has not stopped some 4 million people returning since 2001…and we don’t think people will stop now.”[11]


The fact that UNHCR continues to facilitate, and not promote, voluntary repatriation to Afghanistan is significant: it indicates a tacit acknowledgment that the situation in Afghanistan is not objectively safe for returnees, and, in UNHCR’s estimation, most of the returns are unlikely to be durable. While returnees have not faced discrimination on the basis of their returnee status, they have voiced their concern about the slow pace of economic development and lack of job opportunities which can lead to renewed displacement and reverse population movements. Afghans are concerned about the lack of security despite the presence of ISAF and the building of the Afghan national army and police. The institutions for protection are weak and there is absence of rule of law. The expectations of returnees are turning into disappointment, which indirectly impacts the decisions of the remaining refugees in Pakistan and Iran and the overall repatriation program.


At the beginning of 2005, the concerned parties realized that the initial repatriation estimates were too ambitious and unrealistic. Pakistan was faced with the stark reality that despite pressures from the international community to facilitate repatriation, refugees were reluctant to go back because they lacked shelter, access to land, and livelihood opportunities, and there was continuing insecurity in their home country. This judgment became real after the results of the February 2005 Afghan Census in Pakistan were announced.

Afghan Census in Pakistan

There had been no proper documentation of Afghans living in the country since their arrival in 1979. The available statistics could not provide a clear picture of the actual refugee population. In 2003-4, the Government of Pakistan worked out a plan to carry out a census to assess the numbers of Afghans in Pakistan. It would have been more useful if this process had been carried out at the beginning of the 2002 repatriation program; with the repatriation process underway, the survey was something of a delayed measure. However, it has importance for the future management of the Afghan population in the country.


The survey was carried out by the Pakistan Census Organization (PCO) with the financial and technical help of the office of UNHCR. The process was to be completed in 10 days, from February 23 to March 4, 2005, but operational problems caused delays in parts of the country. When the results were announced, Pakistan was not expecting the figure of over 3 million Afghans, in the face of an ongoing repatriation program. The statistics also shocked UNHCR, as repatriating such a large population by March 2006 was beyond its resources and operational capacity.


The Census of Afghans, undertaken in all locations in Pakistan, shows that 548,105 Afghan families, constituting 3,049,268 individuals currently reside in the country. This census presents “the clearest quantitative and qualitative demographic data to date on Afghans in Pakistan,” according to its own report, entitled, “Census of Afghans in Pakistan 2005.”[12] Some 62 percent of Afghans live in NWFP with 25 percent in Balochistan, 7 percent in Punjab and 4 percent in Sindh. Some 58 percent of the population was living outside camps while 42 percent was in UNHCR assisted camps. The census also indicates that 62 percent of the Afghans living in Pakistan originate from six provinces in Afghanistan, 17 percent from Nangarhar, 11 percent from Kabul, 10 percent from Kandahar and 8 percent from Kunduz, while the remaining 16 percent hail from Paktiya and Baghlan.[13]


According to the census, there is a 3-percent growth rate among refugees.[14] This is a point of concern for authorities as well as locals as, in the coming years, there will be more mouths to feed and resources to share. Some 19.4 percent of all Afghans are children under the age of five. The young growing Afghans identify and associate themselves more with Pakistani society, and are comfortable with their existing situation. In all, 16 percent[15] of Afghans are reported to be Kuchis, who are most likely to be an obstacle in future, repatriation programs. Kuchis are nomads who have moved to and fro between Afghanistan and Pakistan for centuries. Although their nomadic life has undergone change, they claim to be seasonal migrants who should not be categorized as refugees.


Based on a comprehensive survey, the census is expected to be extremely useful for national as well as international agencies in dealing with Afghan refugees. However, there were complaints of irregularities in counting Afghans; some Afghans pointed out that they had been left out of the count. “Our school was closed for about two weeks. We were asked to stay at home so that the census teams could conduct counting. But no one came there in G-8 [a sector of Islamabad], and there are a lot of Afghan families,” reported Nadia Ahmed Zai, a refugee who resides in Islamabad. Indeed, many Afghans in and around the capital said they had not seen any census officials. Residents in Rawalpindi told that they had not been informed properly about the census, despite a media wide campaign. They complained of not being properly informed through TV or print media.


However, the officials concerned with collecting the data disagreed with these accusations and said that they had tried their best to cover all the areas of the country. “The census teams were sent everywhere across the country from well-off neighborhoods to slum areas, from long-established refugee camps to main cities,” said Shams-ul-Islam, a Deputy Census Commissioner at PCO. However, officials acknowledged that 100 percent coverage was never possible, and some pockets may have been left out of the census.[16]


Some shopkeepers in Peshawar, when interviewed, revealed that they had known about the census but not participated in it. This was partly because they did not give much importance to the process, but it was also observed that they deliberately tried to avoid the census out of fear of forced repatriation. It was reported that, at some of the camps, the camp officials supplied the statistics, without actual counting taking place. Some refugees in Hassanpur (Ghazi) openly aired their views against return and said that the same had been conveyed to the census officials when they conducted the survey. Around 80 percent of those counted have shown their reservations about prospects of return in the coming years.


The government had a clear objective regarding this census; it wanted to formulate a comprehensive future strategy for Afghans living in Pakistan. Although there had been some lapses, Pakistan and UNHCR showed satisfaction with the successful counting of a large and highly mobile Afghan population. The completed census was a major step taken towards collecting accurate data. However, the results — in short, the presence of over 3 million Afghans — presented a grave challenge for both the host country and UNHCR. It was difficult to explain this huge figure given the fact that 2.5 million Afghans had returned since the signing of the Tripartite Agreement.


The figure 5.5 million is much higher than any previous estimate of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Three explanations were given. First, all previous statistics on refugees, whether furnished by Pakistan or UNHCR, were estimates. Second, Afghan refugees have a high birth rate — 3.5 percent according to UNHCR. Third, “recycling” has been taking place, i.e., the refugees return to Pakistan through other routes after receiving repatriation benefits. Neither the government nor the UNHCR has provided figures for such ‘recyclers’ over the last two and a half years.[17]


UNHCR introduced a unique iris-recognition technology to verify the identity of all returnees, thereby ensuring returnees only claimed assistance once. Iris verification is mandatory for every Afghan over the age of six wishing to receive UNHCR assistance for repatriation. However, according to media reports, over 1,600 Afghan families were processed without iris testing from 8 to 13 September, 2005 from Peshawar (NWFP) after hundreds of Afghans waiting in long queues for registration attacked the Verification Centre in protest against the slow pace of repatriation.[18]


Problems in Repatriation


The majority of reluctant Afghan refugees point to economic problems while 18 percent regard insecurity in Afghanistan as the main obstacle towards their return. Under international law, those staying for economic reasons are not entitled to asylum because the 1951 UN Convention Relating to Status of Refugee and its 1967 Protocol clearly exclude them from the definition of a refugee.[19] In such circumstances, forced repatriation of refugees is likely to take place, despite the principle of non-refoulement (not to forcefully return refugees).


Pakistan is keen on repatriation and rehabilitation of all the refugees and has been urging the international community to create the necessary conditions and economic opportunities in Afghanistan as an incentive for people to return. Unless “pull factors” are strong and attractive, comprehensive repatriation is less likely to take place in the coming years. In an effort to resolve some of the shelter related problems, in 2005, the Afghan government began an ambitious land distribution[20] to over 300,000 returnees. Some 13,000 plots of land were distributed, mostly in the provinces of Farah, Logar, Faryab and Parwan. In provinces where government land is not available for distribution, eligible returnees are to be provided land in a neighboring province that can absorb them. Kabul has said priority would be given to returnees who are disabled or widowed, and to families lacking a breadwinner.[21] While this is a positive act on the part of the Afghan government, most of the returnees from Pakistan do not belong to the provinces mentioned.


Political, economic and social institutions are being formed to expedite the process of reconstruction, but it will take a long time to make these institutions work effectively and efficiently. There is still much to prepare for refugees’ return. As time passes, Afghanistan’s President Karzai will face increasing pressure from neighboring countries and the displaced population to create enabling conditions for refugees to settle and integrate in their provinces of origin. Since many areas from where refugees and IDPs originate are severely underdeveloped and insecure, hence this will require long-term, integrated programs and specific investments in policy development and prioritization, institutional cooperation and strengthening, and resource mobilization.[22]


Mohammad Naemm Ghiasi, Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister for Refugees and Repatriation, has pointed out that despite the prevailing problems, the fact that returns have continued at such high levels for four years underlines their belief — and more importantly, the belief of their own people — that things are improving in Afghanistan.[23] Progress is being made, but the pace is slow. Secondly, the return of refugees does not mean that they have been fully reintegrated in their society; until the political, economic and social networks are established upon return, there will always be a likelihood that they will flee from the country.

At the beginning of 2005, approximately one million documented Afghans remained in Iran, with over 95 percent living outside the government settlements known as mehman shahr (guest cities).[24] Some Afghans have even been born in the host country. Data about the Afghans in Iran was obtained in 2003. With the survey in Pakistan, the overall demography of the Afghan refugee population is now known. In both countries, two salient features have emerged: the large proportion of Afghans who have lived outside their country for more than twenty five years and the number of young people is high. It seems that repatriation of these refugees will be difficult if not impossible for the concerned authorities, given their long exile period. Going back to their country means starting their lives anew. It will be complicated by continued instability and human rights violations coupled with low levels of human development. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries, ranking 173 among 178 countries, according to the UN Human Development Report 2004.

The Iranian approach: In Iran, an agreement was reached on June 28, 2005 to extend the Tripartite Agreement, which was initially to end in March 2005, to March 2006. The agreement governs the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Iran. Iran has warned it will not further extend this agreement. “If the Afghans currently residing in Iran do not voluntarily return home under the current repatriation program, they will have to leave the country in the coming year while being subject to some limitations,” said Ahmed Hosseini, the Director General of the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA). He warned that any Afghan refugee intending to leave the country next year, will not only have to undergo some limitations, such as paying tuition for their children studying at schools, but will have to pay tax for urban services and the expenses of their repatriation.[25] Iran is clearly signaling to the international agency that it wants all Afghans to repatriate, and refusing to play host for an indefinite period. Afghans who came to Iran after the Tripartite Agreement in 2002 are considered illegal immigrants and are subject to deportation. This places an immense burden on UNHCR and the Afghan government to accommodate the returnees and reintegrate them.

Closure of Refugee Camps in Pakistan: The Government of Pakistan, in a step to accelerate the repatriation process, announced the closure of refugee camps in the FATA by August 31, 2005. This move did not come as a surprise, since the government desired the refugees’ return by the end of the year. Camp residents were given a choice of going home under the UNHCR voluntary repatriation program or relocating to existing camps in Pakistan. The announcement was based on a decision by the government in 2004 to close these camps due to security concerns.[26] The tribal areas have been the scene of continuing clashes between the Pakistan Army and extremist elements and tribesmen linked to fighting in Afghanistan. The FATA camps have been identified as safe havens for militants crossing the border to and from southeastern Afghanistan. In fact, UNHCR regarded insecurity in the areas as the main reason for not properly assisting the refugees.

In early April 2005, Afghans from 12 camps in the North Waziristan Agency of FATA, which borders Afghanistan, began repatriating following announcements by the Government of Pakistan that it intended to close all camps in the region due to security concerns. Camps in Bajaur and Kurram Agencies were closed down by the end of August. The government also decided to close down the Afghan refugee camp in the I-11 sector in Islamabad. This move created uncertainty and anxiety among refugees, and caused a huge rush at the reporting and registration centers of UNHCR in Attock, Peshawar, and the Bajaur and Kurram agencies. The majority of the returning refugees complained about their forced eviction by the Punjab and Islamabad police as well as the political administration of the tribal areas.[27]


The decision to close down the camps left limited options for refugees. The closure affected an stimated 100,000 Afghans. The majority chose to repatriate while others accepted the government’s offer of relocation to other existing camps. The return of these refugees put UNHCR’s reintegration operations within Afghanistan under significant pressure. “Many of the families are returning to areas where there has been limited development due to the security situation,” said Jacques Mouchet, UNHCR’s Representative for Afghanistan. “There are also a large number of individuals who left Afghanistan 25 years ago and who face challenges in reintegrating into their former communities. In coordination with local authorities, the immediate task of UNHCR is to identify and assist those individuals who are particularly vulnerable.”[28]


Most returns from the camps are to the provinces of Khost, Nangarhar, and Paktia in eastern Afghanistan as well as central Kabul province. The refugees have diverse needs: food, education, housing, security, health services and general orientation to the country. The Afghan government has to focus on effective reintegration strategies. When they return home under such circumstances, the returnees become refugees within their own homeland. Given their condition, it is hard to expect that the returnees could become active citizens capable of participating in rebuilding Afghanistan.[29]


Meanwhile, the closure of camps continues as Pakistan clearly wants all its Afghan refugees to go home. Pakistani officials announced over local radio on March 13, 2006 that they were shutting down a refugee camp at Miran Shah, in the North Waziristan Agency, within 24 hours. In recent months, hundreds of refugees living in camps like Miran Shah have been caught in a bloody operation launched by Pakistani paramilitary forces to flush out armed militia, suspected to be Taliban. The political agent of the North Waziristan Agency, Zaheerul Islam, said the refugees must leave or action would be taken against them. “They are not Afghan refugees but foreigners,” he claimed. In February 2006, Islamabad announced closure of three refugee camps in the NWFP and its restive Balochistan province by the end of April. While the Kacha Garhi Camp in Peshawar shelters 51,000 people, the two other camps in Balochistan house a total of 78,000 refugees. The refugees have been told that they should either repatriate or relocate to other camps.[30]


Refugees are not happy with Pakistan’s camps closure policy. They have become vulnerable and are unable to cope with an increasingly difficult situation. They blame their host state for denying them the protection of camp life. They believe that it is not a realistic policy: it does not achieve the objective of repatriation, as most of the affectees find other places to settle or are relocated in other camps.


The statement made by President Karzai during an address in Kabul on the 13th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, urging Afghans to return home and participate in their nation’s reconstruction,[31] seems quite contrary to the prevailing conditions in Afghanistan. Signals to those abroad that the country is safe for return and there are no dangers to threaten them have been proved wrong. The reluctance on the part of the refugees to return, unless forced, is a pointer of the declining trust of Afghans in their own government. This trust was further shattered when no arrangements were made for refugees to participate in the September 8, 2005 parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.

Refugees and in Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan

Even while the largest repatriation program in UNHCR’s history continued, the Afghan government committed a political blunder by disenfranchising almost 1.35 million eligible voters in Pakistan and an estimated 60,000 in Iran from the parliamentary elections conducted in September 2005. By denying Afghan refugees the right to vote from Iran and Pakistan, the Afghan government made them feel politically vulnerable and alienated. Even the IDPs of about 6,000 refugee families, living in the Hesar Shahi Desert in the eastern Nangarhar province, could not cast votes because no polling station had been set up for them. The absence of arrangements for facilitating the participation of potential returnees in the provincial and council elections has led to questions about President Karzai’s motives and credibility.


Political involvement of refugees in the country’s parliament is essential if the government is interested in attracting the displaced population. All refugees desire a political say in the country’s future, and wish to assert their right of self-determination and to participate in building political institutions. Fulfillment of this right is of great importance to provide them the sense of ‘association’ and ‘belonging’ that would effectively integrate them in Afghanistan’s society. Afghan policy-makers, however, ignored the political voice of refugees, and took no effective measures for refugee participation in the country’s election. This has further weakened the authority of Hamid Karzai’s regime and has put into question the Presidential Decree on the Dignified Return of Refugees, issued in June 2002, by the Government of Afghanistan, in accordance with the provisions of the Bonn Agreement, 2001. When a repatriation operation takes place, refugees recover their inherent political rights and responsibilities; it implies the necessary trust and the sense of belonging in terms of the social and political dynamics that build the society in the country of origin. This trust of refugees was shaken by the government with a negative impact on their decision to return.

The electoral process was very different for the Afghan presidential election held in October 2004. Then, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) arranged “Out-of-Country Registration and Voting” (OCRV) for Afghans in both Iran and Pakistan on behalf of the Afghan Joint Election Management Body (JEMB) and United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). However, no such arrangements were made for the parliamentary elections thereby depriving refugees of the right to elect their future representatives. The Afghan government declared that since the provincial and council elections were constituency based, refugees outside the country would have to go to their provinces in order to exercise their right. As most of the refugees and the IDPs did not have the financial resources to travel and cast their vote, they felt frustrated at being sidelined by their own government. This development is going to affect the current repatriation program, as the newly elected leadership is not representative of refugees.

Participation in the parliamentary elections could have been a major pull factor for refugees and resulted in expediting the repatriation process. Having missed this opportunity, however, the government is instead facing criticism from the large refugee community. Thus, while approving the steps being taken forward by the government in restoring political institutions, refugees have openly criticized the government for ignoring them in this major political development. They are questioning how President Hamid Karzai, who was himself a refugee in Pakistan, can overlook the millions of the refugee population, especially at a time when neighboring countries have been subjecting them to pressure tactics and forced eviction. They are disappointed with the international community too, for not putting enough pressure on the Afghan government to facilitate refugee voting. The problem of logistics could have easily been tackled had a proper strategy been worked out in advance. Pakistan had indicated its readiness to assist refugees in the provincial elections, as it had done in the case of the presidential election. However, IOM has stated that no request to make arrangements for out-of-country voting was made by the Afghan government. Clearly, the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation did not play its expected role, for it could have effectively guided the Afghan government as to how the participation of refugees could be made possible.

Non-participation in the elections and political isolation has provided refugees a strong excuse to stay; they do not wish to return to provinces governed by leaders they have not chosen. Moreover, the winning of seats by former mujahideen and warlords in the parliament has further disillusioned refugees. They are cynical towards the government for having allowed the warlords and human rights abusers to contest and sit in the parliament, and for denying them any say, let alone representation, in the formulation of the wolesi jirga (provincial assemblies).

UNHCR’s Operations

UNHCR is playing the lead role in repatriating Afghans. The agency has been lauded for its services towards the largest repatriation program, but critics have decried the shortsightedness of its policies. Amongst the durable solutions of the refugee problem, repatriation has currently been overemphasized and publicized. Although there is no doubt that it remains the most preferred solution, it appears elusive in the case of Afghans; here, while over 4 million have repatriated since the beginning of the 2002 repatriation program, return has not been durable or sustainable and, therefore, the remaining refugees in the host countries are opting out. From the experience of the current repatriation process, it is obvious that there has been more emphasis on return than on the sustainability of refugees in their homeland. Return is important to both the home and the host country, but the latter has reason to be apprehensive of a flow back if sustainability is not given priority. Sustainable return happens when returnees’ physical and material security is assured and when a constructive relationship is consolidated between them, civil society and the state. If repatriation is to be successful, the emphasis should not remain solely on the numbers crossing the border; the sustainability and integration of the returnees should be taken as an equally important factor.

Afghan repatriation in the year 2005 has indicated that comp-rehensive, durable repatriation has been far from achieved. Meanwhile, refugees find themselves under greater pressure than ever before, as both Iran and Pakistan are taking tough stances against refugees and are no longer hospitable to Afghans on their soil. The donor community has also reduced its assistance, showing a declining interest. The weak Afghan government is in no position to absorb and effectively integrate returnees. A more comprehensive and visionary repatriation policy is needed to deal with the increasing problems of refugees and returnees. Unless the approach and policies are changed to adjust to existing realities, repatriation will fail as a solution to the protracted Afghan refugee problem.

The challenges in Afghanistan are such that even an extension of existing arrangements for repatriation may resolve neither the immediate imbalance between the rate of return and absorption capacity inside Afghanistan, nor provide a definitive solution. They require a new framework that must address not only the complex long term challenge of reintegration and poverty but also issues such as seasonal migration, different categories of long staying Afghans, and persons in need of continuing international protection.[32]

Under UNHCR’s repatriation program, each returning Afghan is entitled for transport assistance ranging from $4 to $37, depending on the distance to the destination. Returnees also receive a grant of $12 each to help with additional costs. The return assistance is complemented by programs designed to help former refugees resume their lives in their original communities. In all, during 2005, the UN refugee agency said it would help build or repair more than 24,000 returnee homes across the country. Short-term employment as well as skills training is being provided to vulnerable individuals as part of UNHCR’s income generation activities. Water points that will benefit some 65,000 individuals are being dug, while co-existence programs are under way in an attempt to ensure that tensions within communities are resolved peacefully.[33]


While it is important to highlight its successes, UNHCR should, simultaneously, be more critical of its role in facilitating the repatriation of over 2.7 million Afghans to a country that lacks stability. In terms of numbers, it is indeed an enormous success for an organization, but when looked at from a qualitative perspective, it becomes more complicated to adjudge the success of this repatriation exercise. The terminology of ‘safe return’ has been increasingly used to impress upon Afghans that the situation in their country has improved for repatriation; however, as has been mentioned above, conditions are still fluid and far from favorable for returnees. The Tripartite Agreement of 2003 speaks of phased repatriation from Pakistan but the risk factors involved in repatriating such huge numbers of returnees have not been given due consideration. The brewing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, as the Taliban insurgency proceeds against the Karzai government, may lead to further inflows of refugees into Pakistan and bring the ongoing repatriation process to a halt.


UNHCR should ensure the provision of funds promised by the donors for Afghan repatriation. The funding mechanisms need to be revised to ensure that funds for repatriation are available on a timely basis and can be allocated in a manner that ensures that returnees are adequately supported at various phases of the repatriation process.[34] Successful repatriation involves money. Returnees who are not in a position to support or travel back to their country need financial assistance or some basic agricultural assistance there to restart their livelihoods. UNHCR should project to the world that past repatriation programs in Afghanistan failed due to lack of the funds needed for reconstruction and rehabilitation to attract refugees back home. If major donors remain reluctant this time too, UNHCR will fail in repatriating the remaining refugees from Pakistan. It should impress upon donors that they should assign repatriation assistance a higher priority, and commit resources to it, otherwise refugees will be a continuous burden on their economies, as feeding and providing assistance to a large impoverished population drain the resources of major donors.

While it remains committed to the process of repatriation, UNHCR should not close down refugee camps or cease aid assistance to refugees who are yet to be repatriated. Such actions on the part of the organization leave the refugees no option but involuntary repatriation, which is tantamount to refoulement and, therefore, against the charter of the UNHCR. The organization also needs to coordinate its activities with other agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs), known as imp-lementing partners (e.g., the United Nations Children’s Fund [UNICEF], United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], World Food Programme [WFP], World Bank, and Society for Human Rights and Prisoners Aid. [SHARP], Islamabad). Coordination is essential in repatriation as overlapping of activities and responsibilities can cause wastage of much-needed resources. Once repatriation occurs, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction gain primacy. UNHCR still needs to coordinate more with its partners in achieving these latter objectives.

Future Scenario

Based on the policies of Pakistan since 2001 and the current donor fatigue, it is possible to predict the future scenario for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. In the coming years, the “push factors” for them are likely to increase, leading to forced repatriation. Afghans will probably face even more pressures from the host country after the expiry of the Tripartite Agreement as many have shown their reservations to return. The closure of camps, the Pak-Afghan border and educational institutions is an indicator of the official mindset. The Memorandum of Understanding signed by UNHCR and Pakistan on April 19, 2006,[35] regarding the registration of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, is not well planned. Both parties are aware that comprehensive repatriation is not likely in the near future and, therefore, refugees will be issued identity cards valid for a period of three years, which can be extended by the host. Those who do not register and acquire these cards will be considered illegal immigrants. This identification document will enable refugees to stay for another three years, but does not ensure their future status. Moreover, those who were not counted during the census will not be issued cards, which will make their continued stay difficult.


The door that welcomed Afghans is now shut and they are being asked to repatriate. However, the porous border makes it difficult to stop the recyclers. Members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda network frequently cross the border to seek refuge in the tribal areas. Since 9/11, Pakistan has been in alliance with the United States in its War against Terrorism and has been actively cooperating with it in hunting down Al-Qaeda and the Taliban militants in the tribal belt that borders Afghanistan. However, nobody is satisfied with Pakistan’s policy: the Americans as well as the Afghan government demand that Pakistan should do more to root out the Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces on its territory. Indeed, Pakistan has been accused of protecting the regrouped Taliban who cross into Afghanistan and carry out attacks against the US coalition forces and Afghan government officials. There have been cross-border violations that have made Pak-Afghan relations tenser.

In 2006, AREAU came up with the ‘transnational idea’ after in-depth research on the refugee situation in Pakistan. Based on case studies of Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta, AREAU’s major findings pointed towards the existence of transnational networks between Pakistan and Afghanistan. AREAU recommended that stakeholders look beyond the three solutions to the refugee problem that have been exercised so far, that is:

· Voluntary repatriation to the country of origin,

· Integration in the host country, and

· Resettlement in a third country.

These three solutions are based on the idea that the movement of Afghans must stop. AREAU suggested that new strategies should be developed taking into account the networks that Afghans have established due to their prolonged stay. While no one can deny the existence of these networks, the problem arises when a renowned research organization with major contributions from the European Union and the World Bank, suggests that the refugees in Pakistan should be seen in the transnational framework. AREAU’s justification for its proposed approach is that the current refugee situation is complex and the issue cannot be resolved in the narrow ‘refugee context’ alone. The current framework and administrative and legal arrangements for refugees no longer address the complex realities of the Afghan population, their migratory movements of different kinds, or the continuing poverty in Afghanistan, which is now the main – if not the only determinant of decision-making about repatriation or departure from Pakistan.


This would not be the right time for an approach shift. While a protracted refugee situation is, no doubt, complex, refuge in transnational networks is not the remedy. Afghan refugees have to lose the ‘refugee status’ in order to be treated as economic migrants, or for their movements to be more constructive. Secondly, the international community through this new idea is suggesting that Pakistan should accept the reality of Afghan refugees’ movement across its border. The proposal of such ideas is causing confusion and raising questions, such as whether the same approach would be acceptable in the West: restrictive immigration policies and population movements suggest that the ‘transnational network’ concept is not applied there.

In fact, Afghan movement across the border continued during the Afghan conflict, but it was ignored by the international community as the stress was on refugees’ situation. These movements even existed prior to the Soviet invasion. In the pre-invasion period, the people were never considered refugees. They were at home on both sides. This movement across the Pak-Afghan boundary never made headlines because it was something normal and caused no interruption in the lives on both sides of the border. However, the Afghans who came in huge influxes in the wake of the Soviet invasion in 1979 were quickly categorized as refugees who had fled to Pakistan to avoid war and political persecution. Pakistan, being although a non-contracting party of the 1951 UN Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, was however expected to treat them according to the Convention, and Afghans became the largest load for UNHCR.

The transnational strategy has its strengths and would be more feasible if the relationship between the two countries was friendly, and there were no issue of support to an insurgency. In a normal situation and cordial environment, such networks can become a cementing force in the future. For the present, however, Pak-Afghan relations are marred by mutual suspicion and distrust. Through the transnational strategy, the international community would be relieved of supporting refugees, and UNHCR would not face criticism for its failed repatriation policy. In a subtle manner, it is being recommended that the Afghan population should move freely or stay wherever it is, in contrast to the refugee framework.


Pakistan should clearly state its policy on Afghan repatriation. While there have been statements from various officials that Afghans are to be repatriated, and Pakistan has entered into the Tripartite Agreement with Afghanistan and UNHCR, a clear policy on the issue is missing. Comprehensive and durable repatriation of refugees can only take place if Pakistan formulates a comprehensive policy for its own end. In the absence of such a policy, the objective of voluntary repatriation would not be achieved. It should make its stand clear so that refugees are not left in the dark about the country’s future plans.

If a proper screening of Afghans takes place with the financial and technical assistance of UNHCR after the expiry of the Tripartite Agreement, as initially envisaged, it will help Pakistan adopt a policy for dealing with the remaining refugee population. Those who still qualify to be refugees should be treated and assisted accordingly. Those who are screened out should not be harassed to repatriate immediately but should be informed about their illegal status and the problems they would be facing in future because of their status. How to achieve the target without using force or harassment is indeed an area that should be looked into. Repatriation should be made more attractive for returnees; otherwise, it will reverse itself. Refugees should sense that they are not being pushed back to their country, which is still gripped by instability. Repatriating refugees in an atmosphere of cordiality could become a major bridge for Pakistan to build a lasting relationship with its neighbor.


The Afghan government should take emergency steps to reintegrate its displaced population; otherwise, the cycle of displacement will continue. The turbulations faced by a government in a post-conflict situation are understandable. Nevertheless, the sooner the government takes independent initiatives to address its national problems and reduces the interference of others, the better, and hopefully the problems of returnees will gradually be resolved. The main concerns of refugees regarding shelter and employment should be given priority to attract them home. Continuing

the repatriation policy without providing basic facilities is likely to fail.

The Afghan government has to adopt a balanced and integrated approach to make repatriation durable and sustainable. The essential confidence and will of the people to overcome the present difficulties and face challenges need to come from within, and should not depend on strategies worked out on foreign lands to rebuild and reconstruct Afghanistan. While such policies may have positive intentions, plans imposed from outside have never worked with Afghans. Rebirth, therefore, has to come from the Afghans who have suffered from decades of civil war.

The recycling of refugees is difficult to stop and detect, given the porous border between the two countries. Nevertheless, all those concerned should work out the modalities for coping the best way possible. Fencing and guarding the long border have already been discredited. However, legislation is direly needed. Despite the presence of laws governing the movement of people between the two countries, but they are not practiced in most cases due to instability and volatility in the country at present. Consequently, population movements are hard to be monitored to the total satisfaction of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the international community. A thorough analysis of the problem should be conducted before a policy is adopted.

There is a need for national debate on the issue in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, focusing on the resolution of the problem. The more academicians, practitioners and refugees participate in such events, the more input will be available for policy-makers. Positive criticism of the past flawed policies will lead to corrective measures and adoption of a comprehensive and pragmatic policy responsive to new developments. Defending Pakistan’s flawed policies will serve no purpose. Again, the initiatives should come from within and should not be proposed from outside.

The media should play a proactive role in highlighting the problems of refugees and returnees and bringing awareness amongst the people. This will help in creating a public opinion that will facilitate policy-making. The media plays a powerful role in shaping the opinion of the public; if it is handled constructively, all stakeholders will benefit from media involvement.


In order for ensuring that individuals or some segments of refugees do not empathize or cooperate with the militants in anyway, refugees living along the Pak-Afghan border have been ordered to evacuate and move to the new camps or leave immediately instead of allowing them to return gradually.


Creating the enabling environment for the return of Afghan refugees cannot be rested only on the Afghan government. The International community must come forward and assist the process in letter and spirit. Once the repatriation completes, the Afghan government should take measures to involve them in the reconstruction process so that the sense of belonging accelerates and peace initiatives increase.

Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: Current Situation and Future Scenario[36]

· Pakistan’s Afghan policy warrants an immediate rethinking on policy makers’ part. Blame game and self praise both have done a lot of damage to Pak-Afghan relations as well as refugees. Similarly, Pakistan’s Afghan policy is fundamentally makeshift in nature and its prevalence amidst the lack of this realization makes the situation more complex. Pakistan needs to find a solution to the problem within the bounds of law.

· There are two legal statutes on refugees: first is the Foreigners Act 1946 which was amended in 2001 and the second is the Tripartite Agreement. The Foreigners Act states that a refugee is not a legal citizen of Pakistan. There is no provision in the law that allows a refugee or asylum seeker to be the citizen of Pakistan, thus calling for suitable amendments in the Act by the parliament. Pakistan has allowed refugees not on legal grounds but on humanitarian grounds.

· Pakistan should review its policy toward Afghan refugees for addressing certain imbedded irritants and eventual repercussions. Policies improvised under pressures or fear result in ignoring crucial long-term factors and irreparable losses.[37]

· The process of policy making is also important while chalking out the Afghan policy, there should be a systematic and visible input from all relevant quarters intelligence agencies, political parties, foreign office and foreign players, and intelligentsia. The role and importance of such groups cannot be condoned. Thus, an integrated, comprehensive and sustainable policy must be made while not responding only to either critical internal imperatives or external pressures.

· Taking concrete measures at any juncture would be heavily reliant on the availability of reliable, accurate and comprehensive data and facts as the 2005 Census was limited in its scope, variables and instruments. Now, Pakistan has signed a 3-year agreement with UNHCR to register Afghan refugees.[38] Thorough screening for differentiating between refugees and economic migrants is a must because almost all countries safeguard their interests and complete necessary homework before allowing economic migrants.[39]

· To resolve this complex issue, there are five dimensions to be considered:

1) The geo-political global situation in the context of foreign troops’ presence, whether NATO or the earlier experience of Russian occupation remains the major issue. If this situation prevails, the refugees will not go back. As such Pakistan’s policy cannot be formulated in isolation.

2) The regional imperatives such as India’s role and influence during different regimes remain ominous. The pre-Tarakai period, Delhi-Kabul alliance throughout the Russian occupation, the period of civil tension and civil war, and now post 9/11 are crucial periods which deserve a close examination while formulating a policy.

3) The historical dimension of the migration is also very important. Migration has been one of the major factors of population stabilization in different parts of the world which takes place due to political pressures, religious discrimination, and economic opportunities etc. There is no example in the history of mankind that all the refugees have gone back; there is always a certain number that stayed. Some of them were voluntarily integrated or the governments were left with no choice but to make room for their integration. Some refugees, therefore, have to be absorbed keeping in view the historical experience while others may move out. The historical, cultural, religious and political commonalities between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and central Asia as part of the same landscape cannot be overlooked. The movement of people between these regions has impacted present composition of the population, the language, and the traditions. Therefore textbook solution cannot be adopted;

4) Compulsion or coercive methods cannot provide permanent and long-lasting solution to such problems. Afghan refugees have ethnic, lingual and religious bonds with Pakistan. They are not a one-dimensional entity altogether; they came with different ambitions, different objectives and at different times. Pakistan’s response reciprocated the variation. The first wave of refugees came during 1974-1979, which represents a different mindset and outlook. The period from 1979 till the Geneva accord presents another scenario; most of these refugees were people of cause and provided platform for resistance and it was not only Pakistan, but CIA and America too were supporting them. The post-Geneva accord period, when Mujahideen were going back, has its own features; then the type of refugees who came was totally different. Their attitude, their motivation, and compulsions, even their culture and their attitude towards Pakistan were very distinct. And it is important to note that refugees are still coming. All these differences and dimensions need to be analyzed in dealing with the refugees’ problem.

5) Pakistan’s refugee policy cannot be reviewed without taking all previous experiences and current situation into consideration. Refugee policy is only part of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. Pakistan has lost, by and large, the friends made in Afghanistan particularly after 9/11, but not necessarily for ever. Today, however, at least certain parts of Afghanistan are not hospitable but hostile to Pakistan which can eventually affect the Afghan refugees in Pakistan adversely. The counter hostility can never provide the answer. Unfortunately, the government’s decision toward the closure of certain camps escalated the prevalent skepticism despite the fact that the refugees were given the option to move to new camps and majority of them did move into the designated camps.

Pakistan has to adopt a policy of deliberate non-interference and adhere to it with consistency for building the climate of trust. The present Afghan society can neither be taken nor treated as one-dimensional society. The presence of secularists, pro-Americans, pro-Russians, pro-Pakistanis, pro-Indians, Taliban, political, non-political, urban, rural, tribal and warring factions and groups is a ground reality. Taliban are as much an Afghan phenomenon as those who are fighting them. They are not at all a Pakistani offshoot. The formulation of Pakistan’s new Afghan policy should take into confidence all the Afghans. Even-handedness, equanimity, inclusion, trust and cooperation are some of the answers to the problem.

[1] Pakistan conducted census of Afghans with the technical assistance and funding from UNHCR during February-March 2005


[2] UNHCR, Afghanistan Humanitarian Update, No. 67, January 3, 2003.

[3] UNHCR, Afghanistan Tripartite Agreement with Pakistan, March 18, 2003.

[4] UNHCR, Returnee Monitoring Report Afghanistan Repatriation Jan-March 2002, July 22, 2003 (Available:


[5] US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2004 Country Report (Washington D.C.: 2004).

[6] UNHCR, Afghan Operation 2004,(Geneva, 2004), p.5.

[7] Rudd Lubbers served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2001 to 2005

[8] UNHCR, “Lubbers Happy with Returns, but Worried About Reintegration,” News Stories, August 28, 2002.

[9] UNHCR, News Stories, November 23, 2005

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12], August 24, 2005

[13] Ibid.

[14] UNHCR, Statistical Summary Overview: Census of Afghans in Pakistan, March 2005

[15] Ibid.

[16], March 8, 2005

[17] Ijaz Hussain, “Afghan Refugees- the Way Forward” September 22, 2005

[18], October 3, 2005

[19] Ibid.

[20] In order to be eligible for land, along with Afghan ID card, the returnee needs a UNHCR Voluntary Repatriation Form confirming return from exile. Source: The News International, April 3, 2006.

[21] The News International, April 3, 2006.

[22] UNHCR, Afghanistan: Challenges to Return.

[23] AREAU, Report on the Conference on Afghan Population Movements, (Islamabad: February 14, 2006).

[24] Literally, meaning “guest city.” Unregulated refugee settlements are usually located on the edge of cities across Iran. See AREU’s report, Return to Afghanistan? A Study of Afghans Living in Zahedan, Islamic Republic of Iran, October 2005.

[25] IRNA, July 28, 2005

[26] Pakistan began closing temporary refugee camps for Afghans in 2003. In 2004, the process was expanded to include old camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border.

[27] The News International, September 1,2005

[28] UNHCR News Stories, September 22, 2005

[29] “From Refugees to Refugees,”, August 24, 2005.

[30], accessed on April 19, 2006.

[31] The Washington Times, May 1, 2005.

[32] UNHCR, Afghanistan: Challenges to Return, (Geneva: March 2004).

[33] Ibid.

[34] USCR, World Refugee Survey, 2003.

[35] The UNHCR will be providing $5.9 million to Pakistan for the registration process and the cards will be issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) on the basis of the 2005 Afghan Census in Pakistan. Source: The News International, April 20, 2006.

[36] This is a summary of the recommendations made in the seminar featuring Dr. Nasreen Ghufran’s presentation entitled “Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: Current Situation and Future Scenario,” held at IPS on April 27, 2006-Editors.

[37] The role of UNHCR, in this case, needs to be reevaluated as to why it curtailed the funding subsequently when the repatriation process has gained momentum. Its call for integration of refugees without offering tenable incentives to Pakistan does not make any sense. Similarly, the role of Karzai government to reintegrate these refugees in the backdrop of Tokyo conference funding raises more questions.

[38] Under the agreement, Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority will be responsible for the registration of Afghan refugees. Refugees would be issued Registration Cards for their identification and those having cards will not be apprehended under Foreigners Act. Those with no cards will be considered as illegal and would be deported.

[39] There should be proper screening to identify economic migrants who should be given identification documents with legal safeguards.

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