A total of 65,000 families totaling 3,80,045 registered Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan this year as part of the volunteer repatriation process of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an official said on Sunday.
“This has been the highest number of volunteer returnees from Pakistan since 2006 due to various factors,” UNHCR spokesman Qaisar Khan Afridi told The News.He added that the repatriation process would be suspended for three months from December 1 to February 28, 2017 due to the winter season.
The repatriation centers in Pakistan, two in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and one in Baluchistan, will be closed till February and will only process those Afghan refugees who had registered themselves with these centers by the end of current month.
Since 2002, UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation program has helped nearly 4.1 million Afghans to leave Pakistan. The repatriation process intensified in July this year, mostly due to the alleged harassment and arrest of Afghan refugees’ families in Pakistan. It intensified further when the UNHCR doubled the cash compensation amount from 200 dollars to 400 dollars per individual. In October this year, a total of 148,692 Afghan refugees returned home, mostly from the UNHCR’s Chamkani Centre in Peshawar.
In January 2016, a total of 325 individuals had gone back to Afghanistan, while it increased to 67,059 in August as per information available on the UNHCR official page. The official document reveals that majority of Afghan refugees had returned from Peshawar district and had settled in Nangarhar province upon reaching Afghanistan in the current year.
The UNHCR spokesman Qaisar Afridi said that tight management at the Torkham border between Pakistan and Afghanistan starting from June 1 led to the rise in repatriation of Afghan refugees, who now need valid passports and visas to enter Pakistan.
The short extension in the validity of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards also led to a rise in the repatriation of registered Afghan refugees as the deadline was given only for six months instead of one year in 2016.
The Afghan government’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation also launched a campaign “Khpal Watan, Gul Watan” to persuade the Afghan refugees to return to their homeland and this also contributed to the repatriation process from Pakistan, the UNHCR spokesman added.
Pakistan is still the second largest refugee-hosting country with some 1.4 million Afghans. The government of Pakistan has estimated that another 600,000 Afghans reside illegally in the country. Pakistan has extended the stay of registered Afghan refugees till December 31, 2017 and this might slow the repatriation process next year.