ISLAMABAD -  Afghanistan, Pakistan and UN refugee agency (UNHCR) on Wednesday agreed to undertake joint fund raising campaigns for enabling Afghan refugees in Pakistan to return to their native country as Afghanistan alone cannot absorb tens of thousands of refugees.

Representatives of the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UNHCR during the 25th Tripartite Commission held on Wednesday reaffirmed their commitment to the principle of voluntary repatriation but opined that the refugees needed to be financially sound once they return to native towns and villages.

All the parties agreed that, while the full and effective reintegration will be a gradual and challenging endeavour, linked to Afghanistan’s absorption capacity, concrete measures can be taken to support this process, including by empowering returnees at individual level by strengthening their self-reliance and coping mechanisms upon return.

To support this objective, the three partners agreed to complement the current return cash grant of an average of $1,200 per family of 6, provided to returnees under the auspices of UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation programme, with the inclusion of an additional multi-purpose long-term reintegration component through the introduction of an Enhanced Voluntary Return and Reintegration Package (EVRRP) for a pilot period of one year.

Minister for States and Frontier Region (SAFRON) Lt Gen (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch, welcomed the new initiative stating that Pakistan is dealing with one of the most protracted human displacement situations of the time which calls for a collective response from the international community.

The parties, therefore, committed to undertake in joint fundraising initiatives, led by Afghanistan, supported by Pakistan and facilitated by UNHCR to ensure resource mobilisation for the implementation of the EVRRP.

Mr Baloch agreed that repatriation must be sustainable and based on the realistic assessment of the situation on the ground. He informed the forum that his ministry is devising a comprehensive policy for Afghan refugees in coordination and consultation with the government of Pakistan and UNHCR to be ready by mid this year. The new policy according to him “will be humane, based on the ground realities, for achieving solutions which are sustainable through voluntary repatriation, and the one that leads to empowerment rather than exploitation”.

Afghan Minster for Refugees and Repatriation, Sayed Hossein Alimi Balkhi paid gratitude to the government and people of Pakistan for hosting millions of Afghan refugees and economic migrants for over three decades despite the associated economic challenges and lack of resources. He told the forum that, the new National Unity Government in Afghanistan has taken important steps to resolving the longstanding Afghan refugee issue, including bilateral discussions on the subject with Pakistan, plans to establish a National Migration Management Board and efforts to develop a comprehensive national strategy for voluntary repatriation.

Minister Balkhi said that humanitarian assistance alone cannot fully address the pressing development needs of returning refugees. “There is a need for collective and comprehensive efforts, backed by strong support by the international community for the national programmes that have the potential to address the urgent needs of returnees in Afghanistan,” he said.

UNHCR’s representatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ms Maya Ameratunga and Mr Indrika Ratwattte emphasised that given the positive geo-political developments 2015 was a pivotal year which present a unique opportunity for the pursuit of lasting solutions for Afghan refugees.

They noted that the process of developing vibrant communities, livelihood opportunities and a conducive, sustainable return environment is linked to overall improvements in the socio-economic situation in Afghanistan.

They emphasised the importance of ensuring the inclusion of returnees into the new reform agenda of Afghanistan, its social policy and development processes at local, provincial and national/sector levels; by facilitating their access to National Priority Programs, National Solidarity Program, growth and job creation plans, as well as by prioritising community-based investments benefiting both returnees and local communities in areas of return back home.

During a day-long discussion, other topics discussed at length included updates on the implementation of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR), presentation of the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) programme, voluntary repatriation updates from both the countries, reintegration efforts in Afghanistan and management of Afghans in Pakistan.

The next Tripartite Commission meeting will be held in Kabul in August this year. The Commission is a formal body that governs the return and reintegration of Afghans from Pakistan since 2002. Under this arrangement, more than 3.8 million Afghan refugees have returned with UNHCR assistance to Afghanistan during the past 13 years. This represents the largest repatriation of refugees in UNHCR’s history.