ISLAMABAD            -          UNHCR and the UN Refugee Agency, last week began the first disbursements of emergency cash assistance to the most vulnerable refugee families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan.

This assistance is being carried out in close collaboration with the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions of the Government of Pakistan and with the Pakistan Post.

Pakistan hosts approximately 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, approximately 68 per cent of whom live in urban and semi-urban areas alongside Pakistani host communities.

The refugees eligible for UNHCR’s emergency assistance programme include those with disabilities or serious medical conditions, single parents, as well as daily wage earners. UNHCR’s Representative in Pakistan, Noriko Yoshida, visited a local post office in Islamabad last week. She and key officials from the Pakistani Government helped to distribute the cash assistance to refugees, which is being delivered by UNHCR through the Pakistan Post.

The following day, UNHCR’s cash assistance programme was initiated in the largest refugee villages in Pakistan. The Head of Sub-Office in Peshawar, Bernard Inkoom, participated in an event to mark this milestone in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the majority of refugees (58 per cent) live.

Commenting on the disbursements, Ms. Yoshida said: “This is a significant event for the emergency cash programme that will continue over the coming months. Together with the Government of Pakistan, we must make sure that we ‘leave no one behind’ during these difficult times.” The emergency cash assistance of 12,000 Pakistani rupees (approximately 77 US dollars) will help to ensure that refugees are able to meet their urgent needs during the pandemic. The programme will benefit an initial 36,000 families.

“We are pleased to witness the very first disbursements of the cash assistance provided to our brothers and sisters from Afghanistan,” noted Sahabzada Mehboob Sultan, the Federal Minister for SAFRON. “I believe this support will be a lifeline for so many vulnerable refugee families.” He added that after working tirelessly for months with UNHCR, efforts were now translating into concrete action, with the cash distribution taking place.

The Postmaster General, Laeeq Zaman, said: “Pakistan Post will be there every step of the way in solidarity with Afghan refugees, as this emergency cash assistance programme is rolled out across the country.” The emergency cash for refugees follows the Government of Pakistan’s Ehsaas emergency cash programme, where vulnerable families from the Pakistani host community received 12,000 Pakistani rupees to cover a four-month period.