Afghan and Pakistani officials say that voluntary repatriations of Afghan refugees are to be facilitated by both sides.
Senior government officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan have met in Islamabad to discuss the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees, while representatives of these refugees raised concerns over the law-and-order situation in crisis-wracked Afghanistan.
The officials from both sides have agreed to provide better facilities and assistance to facilitate the voluntary return of Afghan refugees currently in Pakistan. The decision was announced after Dr Jamaher Anwari, Minister for Refugees and Rehabilitation of Afghanistan, and his delegation met with Pakistan's Federal Minster of States and Frontier Regions, Engr. Shaukatullah Khan. The meeting between the Pakistan and Afghan officials, which took place in Islamabad on Tuesday, was also attended by representatives from various Aghan refugee groups who are settled in and around the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta.
Talking to representatives of the refugees, Anwari stressed the need for voluntary repatriation and assistance in rebuilding his country. He said that people returning to Afghanistan would be provided with all the necessary support and assistance required. The minister also noted that Afghan officials had requested volunteer organizations, including the United Nations, to raise the allocated amount of traveling expenses for each family returning to Afghanistan, from 150 US dollars to 500 dollars.
Refugees raise concerns
Meanwhile, representatives of the Afghan refugees spoke about their own issues pertaining to the lack of food, education and employment opportunities for the refugees. They said that people living in refugee camps do not have access to even basic necessities. Speaking about the role of law enforcement agencies, the representatives also emphasized that the refugees often complain about misconduct from local police officials.
Haji Dost Muhammad, who was one of the representative attending the meeting, spoke exclusively with the Deutsche Welle and gave his own version of the scenario: "NATO forces are still present in Afghanistan and if the living conditions there are fine now, then what are NATO forces doing there?" He added that "NATO forces are working towards the resumption of supply routes. There is no peace in Afghanistan. Bomb explosions are being reported day and night. How can we go back to Afghanistan under such circumstances?"
Recent repatriations discouraging
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, the last one and a half years have seen a decline in the number of people who are voluntarily repatriating. UNHCR's spokesman in Islamabad, Qaiser Afridi told DW that around 109,000 Afghan war refugees returned to their country in 2010. According to Afridi, the number of people repatriating declined considerably in 2011, dropping to just 52,000. The first five months in the current year have seen a mere 19,000 Afghan refugees return home, Afridi said.
Concern was raised in this regard by the Pakistani Federal Minister of States and Frontier Regions, Engr. Shaukatullah Khan, who confirmed that the process of voluntarily repatriations had slowed down in recent months. "The number of refugees returning to Afghanistan was alright in 2010, but the following years have seen a considerable decline in this trend," said Khan. However, the minister also stressed the need to speed up the repatriating process on a voluntary basis. He further urged that "we meet regularly, and that all participants, including the UNHCR, agree that the return of Afghan refugees to their homeland must happen voluntarily." However, there was one caveat, he added: "Our financial conditions do not allow us to support 3.5 million refugees."
Author: Shakoor Rahim / Aasim Saleem
Editor: Gregg Benzow