ISLAMABAD: The United Nations and Pakistan on Wednesday sought $367 million from the international donor community to continue managing world’s largest refugee operation involving the stay of around 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees in the country, following the launch of a joint “solutions strategy”.
Envisaging strengthened mutual cooperation between the two sides, the government of Pakistan and the UN refugee agency, the Solution Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) foresees voluntary repatriation of registered Afghan refugees from Pakistan, while providing a roadmap for reintegrating those Afghans who were intending to stay back. Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Lieutenant General (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres jointly launched the SSAR at a related ceremony.
Guterres arrived in Islamabad on a three-day visit on Tuesday. He would be leaving for Geneva today (Thursday). Amid serious reservations, Pakistan’s government functionaries, although support the process of facilitating the registered Afghan refugees stay here, make it clear that the economic interests of Pakistani citizens would not be compromised at the cost of facilitating the Afghans, and that the policy regarding Afghan refugees may be reviewed in the future depending upon the circumstances. Presently, the federal government has allowed the Afghan refugees stay in Pakistan till December 31, 2015.
“The SSAR is a joint concept of Pakistan and the international community,” SAFRON Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch told Daily Times ahead of the strategy’s formal launch. Asked to comment on the Pakistani government’s reservations regarding the stay of Afghan refugees here in the backdrop of economic constraints and their alleged involvement in terror and criminal activities, the minister admitted that there were fault lines.
“Of course there are these issues that need a prioritised consideration. Pakistan has been shouldering the burden of millions and millions of Afghan refugees over the years and years and even decades. We have our limitations and constraints. Until and unless the international community fully recognises the problems on our part and moves for resolving them, this issue cannot be redressed. Pakistan alone cannot meet such great challenge as facilitating the stay of 1.5 to 1.6 million Afghan refugees.”
The minister, however, expressed satisfaction over international community’s support to Pakistan, but said continuous assistance was required. “I am glad that the international community in general and the UN refugee agency in particular are aware of our plight. We have made it very clear to them Pakistan needs their continuous support and cooperation to manage the refugees in this huge number. Otherwise, it would not be possible as we have a lot of our problems to deal with.”
Later, speaking at the SSAR launch, High Commissioner Guterres said, “With the return of Afghan refugees at its lowest level since the voluntary repatriation programme began in 2002, Pakistan’s generosity needs to be matched by others in the true spirit of international burden-sharing.” The UNHCR says the SSAR is a multi-year strategy to find solutions for the world’s most protracted refugee caseload - Afghan refugees. “The voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration of Afghan refugees in Afghanistan remains at the centre of this strategy, which also focuses on support to host and refugee communities in Pakistan and Iran, as well as on increased resettlement to third countries, as concrete demonstrations of international burden-sharing.”
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