Pakistan allows lawful Afghan refugees to stay for another year

by Admin
Pakistan allows lawful Afghan refugees to stay for another year

Pakistan announced Wednesday it had extended the stay of more than 1.4 million lawful Afghan refugees for another year.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s office said the decision was made during a cabinet meeting he chaired in Islamabad.

The statement noted that the meeting approved extending the validity of proof of registration cards, or PoR, for Afghan refugees legally residing in the country to June 30, 2025. It added that the cards had expired last month on June 30.

The document enables refugee families in Pakistan to access health, educational, and banking facilities and protects them from forced deportations to Afghanistan.

The cabinet meeting occurred a day after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, wrapped up a visit to Islamabad, where his discussions with Sharif and other senior officials focused on the problems facing the Afghan refugee community.

FILE – Afghan women who are living in Pakistan wait to get registered during a proof of registration drive at United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Peshawar, Pakistan, Sept. 30, 2021.

A post-visit UNHCR statement issued on Tuesday noted that its chief “called for the timely extension” of the PoR cards, describing them as a “critical identity document” held by Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Refugee controversy

“Grandi expressed appreciation that the ‘Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan [IFRP]’ had been suspended and sought assurances that it would remain on hold,” the UNHCR said.

Pakistan implemented the plan last October and began expelling foreigners, primarily Afghans, who do not possess legal documents or have their visas expired. The crackdown stemmed from rising terror attacks against Pakistani security forces and civilians. More than 600,000 Afghans have since been forced to return to their home country.

A senior Pakistani official privy to Grandi’s meetings in Islamabad on Tuesday confirmed to VOA that his government had halted expulsions of undocumented Afghans under the IFRP. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

However, on Wednesday, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson disputed the UNHCR’s assertions about Islamabad suspending the IFRP.

“This is not true,” Mumtaz Baloch told VOA in a written statement.

“It may be noted that no such understanding has been given by Pakistan to the UNHCR, including in recent meetings with the High Commissioner for Refugees,” Baloch emphasized.

She noted the “IFRP remains in place and is being implemented in an orderly and phased manner.”

Afghanistan’s Taliban government, as well as human rights groups, have condemned Islamabad’s plan to forcefully send Afghans back, saying it is in violation of refugee and international laws.

Rights activists also cited sweeping restrictions the fundamentalist Taliban have placed on women, barring them from most jobs and public places and prohibiting girls’ education beyond the sixth grade.

The Taliban have denied allegations Afghan refugees are responsible for security issues facing Pakistan. Islamabad says the Taliban have allowed anti-Pakistan militants to take refuge on Afghan soil and stage cross-border terrorist attacks, charges Kabul rejects.

Meanwhile, Pakistani officials announced Wednesday they had launched a new phase of scholarships for Afghan students, including girls.

Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s special representative on Afghanistan, revealed the information through his X social media platform.

“Glad to launch the third phase of Allama Iqbal scholarships for Afghan students. In the coming five years, 4,500 Afghan students will pursue studies in social and natural sciences in various universities of Pakistan,” Durrani wrote.

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