Pakistan plans talks with Afghanistan, UN over return of Afghan refugees

The UN?says the number of Afghans voluntarily returning from Pakistan has fallen to about 6,000 as violence worsens in Afghanistan where the government and its US?allies are battling the Taliban. Photograph:( Getty )

Reuters Islamabad Jun 30, 2016, 12.40 PM (IST)

Pakistan is planning talks with Afghanistan and the United Nations refugee agency to move longtime Afghan refugees to camps at home, the foreign office said today, after the numbers of those going back to their homes in Afghanistan decreased this year.

Pakistan has the world's second largest refugee population, with more than 1.5 million registered, and about a million unregistered refugees from Afghanistan, most of whom fled the Soviet occupation of their country in the 1980s.

The UN says the number of Afghans voluntarily returning from Pakistan has fallen to about 6,000, well below last year's 58,211, as violence worsens in Afghanistan, where the government and its US allies are battling a stubborn Taliban insurgency.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said it would immediately approach Afghanistan on the political and diplomatic fronts, while the ministry for frontier regions would engage with the UN refugee agency and Afghanistan's ministry of refugees.

The talks would seek ways to ease "early returns as well as the possibility of shifting Afghan refugees gradually from Pakistan to safer and peaceful areas of Afghanistan, where the Afghan government should establish settlements," the foreign office said.

Hussain Alemi Balkhi, the Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation, said, "We know that the refugees face harassment and hardship, and we are working with Pakistani authorities to address these problems."

He confirmed plans for a three-way meeting on July 19 with Pakistan and the UN refugee agency.

On Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif allowed the 1.5 million registered refugees to stay on for six more months.

The registration deadline extension came soon after officials said at least 500 Afghan refugees had been arrested in the northwestern border province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and deported as a security risk.

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper said more than 2,000 refugees were arrested in the last month, and 400 deported to Afghanistan.

(Reuters)