Pakistan says registered Afghan refugees can stay for one more year

Pakistan says registered Afghan refugees can stay for one more year

Pakistan says it will extend the validity of Proof of Registration cards of 1.45 million Afghan refugees for one year.

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan has announced it will extend the registration cards of nearly 1.5 million Afghan refugees after a senior UN official urged the country to halt its deportation plan.

“The federal cabinet approved one-year extension of the validity of POR (Proof of Registration) cards of 1.45 million Afghan refugees. Their PoR cards have been expired on June 30, 2024. The extension has been granted until June 30, 2025,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement after the conclusion of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

The announcement followed the discussion on the status of the refugees between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Filippo Grandi, chief of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), who visited Pakistan earlier this week.

Sharif told Grandi that the international community must recognise the “burden being shouldered” by Pakistan as it hosts a large refugee population, and demonstrate “collective responsibility”, according to a statement issued by the prime minister’s office on Tuesday.

Pakistan has been hosting millions of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The latest influx started in August 2021 when the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, prompting some 600,000 to 800,000 Afghans to seek refuge in neighbouring Pakistan.

Last November, Pakistan launched a widely criticised repatriation programme aimed at returning millions of Afghans, regardless of their legal status.

According to the government, Pakistan currently hosts nearly three million Afghans, with close to 2.4 million possessing some form of legal documentation. Of these, almost 1.5 million hold a UNHCR Proof of Residence card, and another 800,000 possess an Afghan Citizenship Card (ACC).

An official at the Afghan Commissionerate, the government agency responsible for Afghan refugees in the country, stated that more than 600,000 refugees have returned to Afghanistan to date, with more than 30,000 being deported and the rest returning voluntarily.

UNHCR Chief Grandi acknowledged the challenges faced by Pakistan and acknowledged his appreciation that the repatriation programme has now been “suspended”, expressing hope that it will remain so, according to a statement by the UNHCR.

“We need to seize this opportunity to accelerate solutions and have a broader vision for the Afghan people in Pakistan,” Grandi said.

The official at the Afghan Commissionerate, who requested anonymity, also confirmed that the plan has been temporarily paused, with no expulsions or deportations occurring from border crossings in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Balochistan provinces.

“These days, there is complete calm at the border, and Afghan families are not facing harassment or arrests,” the official told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

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