Afghans accelerate voluntary repatriation from Pakistan’s tribal areas


Source: By Jack Redden, UNHCR Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, August 23 (UNHCR)
– The number of Afghans who have requested UNHCR help to repatriate
from Kurram and Bajaur agencies has risen sharply as the government of
Pakistan’s August 31 deadline for closure of refugee camps draws near.

The government has given the 100,000
Afghans living in refugee camps in the two areas along the border with
Afghanistan the choice of going home under the UNHCR voluntary
repatriation programme or relocating to places it will designate
elsewhere inside Pakistan.

By yesterday, 13,000 Afghans in
Kurram had gone through all the UNHCR procedures to receive
repatriation assistance – including taking an iris recognition test to
ensure they had not previously received return aid – and departed for
Afghanistan. Some 30,000 Afghans have registered so far in Kurram to

With it now clear that the camp
closures will take place on August 31 as originally ordered, large
numbers of Afghans in Bajaur have requested UNHCR assistance to
repatriate. While only 400 had departed by yesterday, some 3,331 have
registered with UNHCR to repatriate in the following days.

According to the census of Afghans in
Pakistan conducted earlier this year, there were approximately 32,000
Afghans in camps in Bajaur and 70,000 in camps in Kurram. A further
21,000 Afghans lived outside camps in Bajaur and 48,000 outside camps
in Kurram.

The closure of the camps, which
completes the closing of all refugee camps in the Federally
Administered Tribal Areas that began in 2004, was ordered by the
government on security grounds. The army has been trying to tighten
control in the border region, where tribal fighters are accused of
infiltrating Afghanistan to battle the Kabul government.

The issue had been raised also at the
meeting of the Tripartite Commission of the two governments and UNHCR,
the agency which oversees repatriation. It was also discussed by Sardar
Yar Mohammad Rind, Pakistan’s Minister for States and Frontier Regions
(SAFRON) which is responsible for Afghan refugees, during his recent
visit to Kabul.

UNHCR has endorsed the decision both
because security concerns in the area have obstructed the provision of
assistance to refugees and because the government is preserving the
opportunity for asylum by giving Afghans a choice of repatriating or
relocating inside Pakistan.

UNHCR has assisted more than 2.5
million Afghans to repatriate from Pakistan since 2002. Each individual
going home is eligible for transport assistance ranging from US$3 to
$30, plus $12 to help in reintegrating inside Afghanistan.

As camps have been closed or
consolidated, Afghans have been able to repatriate or move to other
camps where there is now space because of repatriation.

The process began with the closing
during 2003 and 2004 of temporary refugee camps that were established
in 2002. Last year the consolidation was expanded to including older
camps in FATA. UNHCR is ending assistance in two camps that the
government ordered closed in Balochistan province this year.

The government has also ordered
Afghans to leave the I-11 slum area of the capital, Islamabad, by
September 10. A previous order issued in 2004 was extended for a year
at the request of the government of Afghanistan. The residents have the
choice of repatriation with UNHCR from the area, which is not a refugee
camp, or relocation by the government to an existing refugee camp near
the town of Mianwali.