ISLAMABAD, May 16 (APP):Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Shehryar Khan Afridi Thursday urged the world community to help the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other stakeholders to accelerate the sluggish pace of voluntary repatriation of Afghan Refugees.
Talking to a delegation of UNHCR led by Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, Country Representative, UNHCR-Pakistan, the Minister lauded the role of UNHCR and other donors towards the Afghan refugees and humanitarian matters, a press release said.
The Minister told UNHCR country director that the Government of Pakistan is currently implementing a comprehensive policy on voluntary repatriation and management of Afghan nationals that was approved by the Federal Cabinet in September, 2018.
“Pakistan considers voluntary repatriation as the most preferred viable solution for Afghan Refugees and is adhering to the principles of voluntarism and gradualism. Pakistan over the past 40 years has hosted the Afghan refugees well and this hospitality is unprecedented in human history,” the minister said.
Expressing concerns over the slow pace of repatriation, the Minister said that only 1528 registered refugees voluntarily had repatriated during year 2018 where the same sluggish trend was being noticed during this year as only 877 individuals have returned from March 1 to May 10, 2019.
The Minister recommended that the UNHCR may use its offices to approach the donors for the enhancement of repatriation grant.
“In 2016 along with other reasons, the increase of repatriation grant from 200 to 400 dollar was a major factor of mass repatriation as over 381,000 registered refugees returned to their country. The positive impact of this increased cash amount has been acknowledged by all including the beneficiaries,” the Minister noted.
The Minister informed the delegation that the validity of Proof of Registration (POR) cards for Afghan Refugees and tripartite agreement are going to be expired on June 30, 2019. He said the Ministry of SAFRON in consultation with all stakeholders will submit summary to the Federal Cabinet for further extension. However, he added, concrete and robust action to enhance the repatriation is required during the current year.
The Minister apprised that for opening bank account of registered Afghan refugees as per PM’s directive, all operational modalities have been finalized among SAFRON, State Bank of Pakistan and National Database & Regulatory Authority (NADRA). The SBP has circulated guidelines and banks are working on the mechanism to be evolved by all them throughout the country, he added.
Shehryar Afridi said that most of Afghan refugees were second or third generation born in Pakistan and this youth bulge requires urgent investment to empower them through education, skills training and livelihoods support inside Afghanistan, rather than being exploited by unfriendly elements. Therefore, he added, youth benefitted program should be prioritized by the UNHCR.
The Minister said that in line with the same vision, Pakistan generously encouraged and supported access of Afghan children to public and private education institutions within the country as we feel that education of Afghan Refugees was an investment in future human capital of Afghanistan.
“Ministry of SAFRON had organized Skilled Development Programs (SDP) for imparting such skills to the male and female youth of Afghan Refugees that would help them to find suitable jobs and livelihood opportunities on their return to Afghanistan,” he said.
The minister said the pilot project costing Rs 30 million was completed in year 2017 that has trained over 755 youth up to the age of 25 years old in four provinces. More funds are required to continue such program, he added.
Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, expressed gratitude to the Minister and reiterated full support of UNHCR in helping the repatriation process of Afghan Refugees.