Afghan refugees living without documentation in Pakistan after fleeing their war-torn country have given a lukewarm response to a United Nations-assisted voluntary repatriation programme.
“What will people do in the long run when there isn’t even any security?” Saida Jan, an Afghan elder living in the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, asked.
Many of the refugees have lived in Pakistan for decades – and Jan is not alone in his hesitation over going back.
Just 20 families, comprising 97 people, have so far been repatriated since the programme began last Thursday, officials at the office of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Islamabad confirmed on Monday.
Having registered some 2.1 million Afghans in a four-month long countrywide drive that ended on 15 February, Pakistani officials have asked all unregistered Afghans to leave the country before 15 April.
About 400,000 Afghans are believed to have not registered with the Pakistani authorities, officials at the Afghan embassy in Islamabad said.
“Afghans with no PoR [Proof of Registration] cards should return before 15 April. [Otherwise] they will be subject to the laws of the land after this date,” warned Nayyar Agha, head of the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR) in Islamabad.
Dr Aluzai Ghazi, a representative of the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation at the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, told IRIN that hundreds of Afghans were coming to the embassy every day to see whether officials could persuade Pakistani authorities to extend the six-week amnesty period.
Ghazi added that the majority of the unregistered Afghans were daily wage labourers and workers in Pakistan's informal industries.
"At least 50 Afghan nomad families work here at a brick kiln and not a single person has got a PoR card," said Saida Jan.
Afghans in Pakistan
"These poor unskilled labourers survive on their daily wages and live in mud houses. They do not have any means to move to Afghanistan and start anew in a situation when there are no job opportunities," he added.
In an effort to address this issue, UNHCR has increased its assistance package three-fold from US $30 to $100 per Afghan repatriating.
But Afghans on the street said extra money alone would not help them start afresh in their homeland.
"This is a one-time assistance, and there is so much inflation inside Afghanistan," said Paida Din, an Afghan labourer at Islamabad's main vegetable market.
After first singling out unregistered Afghans, the UNHCR programme will on 16 April be thrown open to registered Afghans who want to return to their country, according to agency spokesman Babar Baloch in Islamabad.
More than 2.8 million Afghans have voluntarily returned from Pakistan since 2002 under UNHCR's voluntary return assistance programme.
By comparison, the number of returns in 2006 was low, with only 132,000 Afghans having repatriated, far less than UN expectations of 400,000.
This year, the agency expects upwards of 250,000 Afghans to return from Pakistan and Iran, the primary host countries of the Afghan diaspora.
Young Afghans reluctant to go home
Registration open to more Afghan refugees
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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