ISLAMABAD - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Monday lauded the decision of the Pakistan government to extend the proof of registration cards to Afghan refugees until June 30.

In a press statement it reaffirmed its commitment to work with the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan on long-term solutions for 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan.  

“The UNHCR said that “this step would serve as a temporary relief amid growing uncertainty and anxiety but remains concerned that the government’s timeframe for voluntary, safe and dignified return appears limited and that alternative solutions have yet to be progressed”. 

UNHCR Representative for Pakistan Ms Ruvendrini Menikdiwela acknowledged and applauded the people and the government of Pakistan for having hosted and cared for Afghan refugees for almost four decades.

She also reiterated her call to the international community to continue its fullest support to Afghan refugees and their host communities. 

For its part “UNHCR will continue to assist Pakistan in finding permanent solutions for one of the world’s most protracted refugee populations. However, refugees need to be able to make well-informed decisions and have opportunity to avail themselves to alternative solutions, such as obtaining Afghan passports in Pakistan and Pakistan visas under the Government’s flexible visa regime.”

Ms Menikdiwela underscored the need for creating conditions that were conducive for sustainable return to Afghanistan and making sure that every return is well-informed, voluntary, safe and dignified.

She said that while voluntary repatriation was a preferred solution for the majority of Afghan refugees , it needs to be undertaken in a phased manner that supports refugees’ sustainable reintegration back home in Afghanistan. 

Ms Menikdiwela said that the UNHCR will continue to work with the government of Pakistan in-line with their Comprehensive Policy on Voluntary Repatriation and Management of Afghan Nationals, and assist both governments within a Tripartite Framework and agreed Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR).

Since 2002, around 4.3 million Afghan refugees have voluntarily returned to Afghanistan under the Tripartite Framework and UNHCR-facilitated voluntary repatriation programme.