The deadline for thousands of Afghan refugees to leave Kacha Garhi camp in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) has been extended for another year to 30 March 2004, IRIN learnt on Wednesday.
"This is good news for the refugees as it gives more time to those who are not yet ready to leave," the public information clerk for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Asif Shazad, told IRIN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
There are approximately 60,000 Afghans living in Kacha Garhi, one of the oldest camps in the country, which has been earmarked by the Pakistani government for redevelopment. The authorities say the site belongs to the military and they need the five square kilometres of land on which the camp is sited to build a housing scheme.
Initially, local officials wanted the site to be vacated by 30 March 2003. "We saw the difficulties some of these people were facing and we wanted to give them more time," NWFP Commissioner for Afghan Refugees Brig Mushtaq Ahmed told IRIN from the provincial capital, Peshawar.
There has been much resistance from the refugees themselves, who have spent most of their lives there, having fled the troubles in their homeland. "I don’t want to leave my home here. It’s beyond my means to establish another house elsewhere," Painda Mohammad, a 60-year-old Afghan refugee at the camp, told IRIN in an earlier report on 28 March.
Ahmed added that those who were unable to leave by March 2004 would be relocated to other camps in the NWFP. "We have a commitment for the next three years before all the Afghan refugees have to leave Pakistan for good," he said.
In March 2003, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a tripartite agreement on the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees from Pakistan over the next three years. The agreement also called for the formation of a tripartite commission, which would meet every three months.
Kacha Garhi will be the third such refugee site to be vacated and demolished among some 200 refugee camps throughout Pakistan. In June 2002, the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Peshawar was officially closed down. The Emirates camp close to the border town of Chaman in southwestern Balochistan Province bordering Afghanistan was also vacated. Since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, about two million Afghans have gone home. Some 1.5 million Afghans are expected to return home this year under UNHCR's repatriation drive.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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