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Pakistan introduces new policy for Afghan refugees

'If Afghan nationals get themselves registered, they will not be harassed by police,' says states minister

Pakistan introduces new policy for Afghan refugees

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan 

Pakistan Thursday has announced a "stick-and-carrot" policy for around a million undocumented Afghan refugees.

The policy -- announced by the Ministry of States and Frontier regions -- has apparently given a legal cover to the country’s security forces to "harass" refugees who lack documentation.

"There is an offer for the Afghan nationals in the deal [...] This is a carrot-and-stick approach. If Afghan nationals get themselves registered, they will not be harassed by police," Lt Gen (rtd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, the federal minister for states and frontier regions was quoted as saying by local broadcaster Dawn News on Thursday.

Under the policy, the country’s national database registration authority -- NADRA -- will set up over 50 centers to register the Afghan refugees across the country. 

Each center will be manned by a representative from the Afghan government to verify the refugees’ documents, the minister said in his remarks at the signing ceremony of an agreement between the ministry and NADRA in the capital Islamabad on Thursday.

"Undocumented [refugees] will be haunted by the police”, he added.

There are around 3 million -- documented and undocumented -- Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, making it the largest refugee population in the world after the Syrians in Turkey. 

Voluntary repatriation process

Most of the refugees live in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and southwestern Balochistan provinces that border Afghanistan.

Pakistan has said it would allow registered refugees to stay until the end of the year but that “the time has come for them to go back to their homeland with respect”.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 3.8 million refugees have been repatriated to Afghanistan since 2002 but many have returned to Pakistan due to the ongoing violence, unemployment and a lack of education and medical facilities.Around 4,399 Afghan refugees have been repatriated last month under the voluntary repatriation process, which was started in the first week of April., Qaiser Khan Afridi, a UNHCR spokesman said earlier this week.

Even Afghan refugees with a legal status in Pakistan have complained that they have been harassed to leave the country without being given any compensation for loss of property or possessions,Pakistan, however, has denied the claims of harassment and property confiscation, saying Afghan refugees were not supposed to set up businesses beyond the refugee camps.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report on alleged forced returns of Afghan refugees, has urged Islamabad to avoid recreating conditions in 2017 that coerced the involuntary return of refugees to Afghanistan in 2016.

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