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Pak agrees to reassess deadline for Afghan refugees’ repatriation

AT Monitoring Desk-KABUL: The Pakistani government has agreed to review its December 31 deadline for repatriation of Afghan refugees and has promised to organize a ‘realistic roadmap’ for implementing the process in a better manner, said media reports on Friday.

Pakistan’s Dawn reported that Pakistan had shown flexibility to extend the deadline. This decision was taken after a tripartite meeting among senior Afghan, Pakistani and UN officials as part of the 25th tripartite meeting held in Islamabad.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, said during a meeting with Afghan Refugees Minister Sayid Hussain Alimi Balkhi that the two countries should closely engage with the UNHCR for devising a realistic roadmap for repatriation of the refugees.

According to the joint communiqué of the tripartite meeting, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UNHCR have agreed to work together for formulating a ‘comprehensive plan’ containing realistic timelines for the repatriation of refugees.

The earlier decision of not extending the Dec 31 deadline had been unilaterally taken by Pakistan in January this year. It is believed that recent improvements in Pak-Afghan ties have made Islamabad soften its position.

It is said that there are about 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The number of unregistered refugees is believed to be close to one million.

The declaration said that the new policy on Afghan refugees is to be formulated latest by August that would contain the return program based on ground realities and the absorption capacity of Afghanistan.

The policy is likely to be presented for approval at the next meeting of the tripartite commission in Kabul in August. The three sides also agreed to discuss the issue of renewal of proof of registration cards for the refugees expiring on Dec 31 and extension of the tripartite agreement during the consultations on the return policy. There was further consensus on taking timely decisions on the issues related to the future of refugees so that ‘uncertainty towards the end of year’ could be avoided.

In the meantime, in respect to documenting unregistered refugees, it was decided that a six-member committee would work out modalities in this regard. The committee has been given an ambitious timeline of documenting over one million unregistered refugees in four months.

Life became difficult for Afghan refugees after the deadly attack on a school in Peshawar city which left more than 130 children dead. The Afghan government recently sent a delegation to Islamabad to notice the plight of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.

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