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Time over for Afghan refugees: Aziz

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan yesterday said Afghan refugees’ presence in Pakistan was not viable now.

The comments came amid tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan over the border issues. Pakistan has erected a gate at the Torkham border and plans more but Kabul is raising hue and cry against the step.

A visit by Afghan deputy foreign minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai this week could not yield any results but the two sides are again expected to meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit– scheduled for June 23-24 to hammer out a solution.

Kabul accuses Pakistan of harbouring militants seeking to topple the Afghan government and not doing enough to bring Afghan Taliban leaders, over which Pakistan holds some sway, to the negotiating table. Pakistan denies supporting militants and maintains it was constructing the border gate to prevent anti-Pakistan militants’ crossing over from Afghanistan.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said given the immense socio-economic, development and environmental challenges, continued presence of Afghan refugees in Pakistan was not a viable option now. He said repatriation of all Afghan refugees living in Pakistan for three decades was a priority.

Speaking to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who is on Pakistan on a four-day visit from June 21 to 24, Aziz said for over three decades, Pakistan has shown exemplary goodwill and generosity by hosting millions of Afghan refugees.

This is Grandi’s first visit to Pakistan after assuming office of the High Commissioner. He visited Iran and Afghanistan before arriving in Pakistan. The objective of the visit, coinciding with the World Refugee Day, is to show solidarity with the refugees and the host countries, and to exchange views on addressing the Afghan refugee situation.

Aziz said the security dimension added to the challenges. “It also necessitated more effective border management. Political transition in Afghanistan two years ago provided an opportunity for the refugees to return to their homeland and be part of the national rebuilding process in Afghanistan. It was considered that repatriation of refugees would contribute to the stability and development of Afghanistan and the region,” he added.

The meeting noted that the pace of repatriation was extremely slow, attributed to the perennial shortage of resources, absence of an effective reintegration plan, and lack of international attention and support among other factors.

“The need for a time-bound plan for repatriation was underscored by the adviser,” said the foreign ministry.

“Both sides agreed that addressing the current crises elsewhere should not divert attention and funding from the Afghan refugee situation,” it added.

It was underlined that Pakistan’s future policy and decisions would depend on the corresponding actions and plans of the Afghan government, UNHCR and international donors.

Several steps such as expedited returns, concrete international funding and incentives for returnees were required to ensure success in this collective endeavour in which all stakeholders must shoulder their responsibilities, it said.

The high commissioner commended Pakistan’s historic contribution and hospitality in hosting the Afghan refugees for 37 years and evinced strong desire to work together to promote a solution to this protracted refugee caseload.

He shared UNHCR’s efforts and plans to mobilize international attention, support and funding for the management and return of Afghan refugees. The adviser assured the High Commissioner of Pakistan’s support and cooperation.

Filippo Grandi also met President Mamnoon Hussain and National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua who also underscored the need for quick repatriation of the Afghan refugees.

President Hussain said return of Afghan refugees was vital for durable peace and development in the region. Nasser Khan Janjua urged the UNHCR to mobilize political and financial support of the international community for early repatriation of the Afghan refugees.

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