PESHAWAR - Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions, Engineer Shaukat Ullah has said that the deadline of Afghan refugees in repatriation - December 31, 2012 - may be extended, as the government is formulating a new strategy in this connection.   

The government is working out on a plan to formulate a new strategy to send Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan, though the deadline has already been set. The minister said the federal government would give approval to the new strategy. After the formally approval the process of repatriation of Afghan refugees would be extended, Shaukatullah said this while speaking at a function held in which several Afghan refugees families voluntarily left for Afghanistan.

He maintained that, “We are in the process of formulating a new strategy for Afghan refugees in Pakistan in 2013 and beyond. I wish to reassure that the goodwill, which the people and the government of Pakistan have earned by hosting Afghan brothers over the years, shall not go to waste. The federal minister said that, “We acknowledge the efforts of UNHCR in implementing the agreement between the UNHCR High Commissioner and the Government of Pakistan in facilitating a surge in voluntary repatriation for the remainder of the year.”

Federal Minister for SAFRON Engineer Shaukat Ullah along with Representative of the UN Refugee Agency in Pakistan, Mr. Neill Wright visited UNHCR’s facilitated Voluntary Return Centre in Chamkani, Peshawar in order to assess the repatriation process following the increase in the return package for repatriating Afghan refugees. Since the start of November, UNHCR Pakistan has enhanced the return package available to every registered refugee returning to Afghanistan under the agency’s facilitated return programme.

The visiting delegates received a briefing on return procedures and met with Afghan refugee families present at the departure centre.

Talking to the reporters, Mr. Neill Wight said, “Witnessing and facilitating voluntary repatriation is always a pleasure, as it marks the start of the end of being a refugee for those who are returning to their own country.” Mr. Wright noted that, “UNHCR has supported the Government of Pakistan and provided hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance to refugees hosted on the sovereign territory of Pakistan over the past three decades.  Continuing this long tradition of hospitality by the people of Pakistan, the Government continues to respect the fundamental principle that repatriation is voluntary and that no refugee will be forced back.” The new assistance package offered by UNHCR includes the provision of non-food item (NFI) kits distributed to the returning families at the Chamkani, Timargara and Quetta Voluntary Repatriation Centres (VRCs).

These items include jerry cans, buckets, soap, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, blanket, cooking set, plastic tarpaulins, quilt, sanitary cloths and winter clothes.

Refugee families are also being offered limited transport assistance from the Voluntary Repatriation Centres in Pakistan to the Encashment Centres in Afghanistan. This assistance package is in addition to the USD 150 cash grant provided to returning families, and will continue until the end of December 2012, by which time a review of whether the cash grant should be increased in line with inflationary costs will have been completed.

Since September this year, UNHCR has also started facilitating the group return of families that originate from the same areas inside Afghanistan. So far, four groups consisting of some 1,300 Afghan refugees have returned home under the Facilitated Group Return (FGR) programme from the Provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Overall, this year’s voluntary repatriation trends indicate a 34 per cent increase in the number of Afghan refugees returning to their home country, when compared to 2011.

A total of over 63,000 individuals have returned so far this year. UNHCR has assisted more than 3.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan to return to Afghanistan since 2002 in the world’s largest voluntary repatriation movement.