0.2m Afghans return voluntarily this year PESHAWAR: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday said around 200,000 Afghan refugees have returned to their country this year under the voluntary repatriation programme.
Spokesperson for the UN refugee agency Dunya Aslam Khan said the number of Afghan returnees from Pakistan had crossed the 200,000 mark on Tuesday bringing the tally of registered refugees in the country down from 1.6 million to 1.4 million.
This is the highest such number in the last one and a half decades.
“The number of refugees returned to their country by last Monday was 197,000 and that on average, more than 5,000 individuals are heading for Afghanistan on daily basis,” she told Dawn.
She said 97,800 refugees had gone back in September alone, while the number of returnees under the UN sponsored voluntary programme would continue at the current speed.
Officials attribute exodus to strict border management, higher cash assistance and harassment by police
The officials estimate that over one million undocumented Afghan nationals were also residing in Pakistan and thousands of others had been deported under the National Action Plan.
The number of registered refugees in Pakistan was 1.6 million until last June and the return of Afghans during the last three months has brought the number of refugees down to 1.4 million.
The Amnesty International on Monday ranked Pakistan the third largest refugees hosting country after Jordan and Turkey, which host 2.7 million and over 2.5 million such people respectively.
After the return of 200,000 refugees, Pakistan has become the fourth largest refugee hosting country in the world. It is replaced by Lebanon, which currently shelters 1.5 million refugees.
The federal government has set March 2017 as the last deadline for the return of registered Afghan refugees.
Officials said the surge in the return of Afghan refugees was beyond their expectations.
The UNHCR opened its second voluntary repatriation centre in Azakhel area of Nowshera last week to cope with the growing influx of departing Afghans. The third VRC is operating in Balochistan.
Around 1,000 refugee families are approaching VRCs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on daily basis for verification of their documents before proceeding to home country.
The UN and government departments were expecting the repatriation of 220,000 registered refugees by the end of December.
The UN agency is paying $400 to every registered refugee after verification of his/her documents at VRCs.
Officials said the return of refugees from Balochistan was going slow and only 11,800 registered Afghans had gone back via Chaman border since January last, while 20,000 refugees had been repatriated from Punjab province.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa hosts the largest number of registered refugees and undocumented Afghan nationals followed by Balochistan.
The officials said the Pakistani government’s tight border management plan was apparently a major factor behind the return of refugees.
They said the police’s harassment and increase in cash assistance from $200 to $400 had also contributed to the massive return of refugees.
“Unlike Torkham crossing point, the border management plan has not been introduced at Chaman (Balochistan), where the people are still traveling without visa,” said an official.
He said the reason for tge large-scale return of refugees from KP and its adjacent areas was the implementation of border management plan at Torkham.
Pakistan had introduced a proper border management plan at Torkham crossing point in last June and plugged the unfrequented routes along the Afghan border in KP and adjacent tribal areas and thus drastically reducing illegal cross border movement between the two countries.