Majority of Afghan refugees unwilling to return: report


Islamabad : Most of the two million Afghan refugees registered in Pakistan have no intention of returning home, says a report the United Nations and the Pakistani government released Thursday.

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According to the report, the refugees feared security risks and other hardships.

Pakistani authorities have vowed to repatriate the refugees by 2009, but a joint study by the government and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) showed that 82 percent do not wish to leave.

Lack of security was the main concern of 42 percent of the refugees, followed by shelter (30 percent) and livelihood opportunities (24 percent).

Many also said they had been born and raised in exile in Pakistan and had few links with their native country.

The refugees flooded into Pakistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Only about two thirds have undergone registration, leaving around a million people off the radar.

Despite the findings, the Secretary for Pakistan’s Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, Sajid Hussain Chattha, said the 2009 deadline for the repatriation would not be reviewed.

“Over 200,000 already went back during 2007 and hopefully 600,000 more will return by the end of this year,” he told journalists.

But UNHCR representative in Pakistan Guenet Guebre-Christos stressed that repatriation should not be compulsory. According to the UN, more than 3 million Afghans voluntarily returned from Pakistan with its assistance since 2002.

The government in Islamabad recently accelerated the repatriation process in apparent retaliation for Afghan allegations that Taliban militants were attacking from Pakistan.

Most of the Afghan refugee camps by the border have been targeted for closure amid claims that they were centres of militant recruiting and other menacing activities.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf this year said closing the camps was a top priority in curbing the insurgency in Afghanistan, calling them a “safe haven of all Taliban activity.”

Under a 15-week registration exercise, Pakistani authorities issued more than 2.15 million special cards legalizing the refugees’ stay in the country up to December 2009. The government is now considering the deportation of those that did not register.

Registered refugees who accept the offer to leave receive a one-off relocation payment of 100 US dollars and a place in one of 100 special townships being built for the returning population.

But while many who have returned suffered adaptation hardships, 90 percent find some form of work within six months, the UNHCR says.