UN wants 'voluntary' return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan

"Any refugee return must be voluntary and without any pressure," UNHCR says

By Web Desk
October 03, 2023
Afghan refugees gather for renewal of their family cards at the Chamkany registration center on the outskirts of Peshawar. — AFP/File

The United Nations (UN) said Tuesday that Afghan refugees in Pakistan should be allowed to leave the country voluntarily and no pressure be exerted on them.

"Any refugee return must be voluntary and without any pressure to ensure protection for those seeking safety," Qaisar Khan Afridi, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Anadolu.

The statement came after the interim government ordered all illegal immigrants, including 1.73 million Afghan nationals, to leave the country or face expulsion after revealing that 14 of 24 suicide bombings in the country this year were carried out by Afghan nationals.

"We have given them a November 1 deadline," said Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti, adding that all illegal immigrants should leave voluntarily or face forcible expulsion after that date.

Bugti said some 1.73 million Afghan nationals in Pakistan had no legal documents to stay, adding a total of 4.4 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.

The UNHCR official termed the press reports about a plan to deport undocumented Afghans "disconcerting" and said the body was seeking clarity from "our government partners".

Afridi asked Pakistan to come up with a plan that ensures all Afghan nations with international protection are not deported, noting that Islamabad has been "generously hosting refugees for more than 40 years".

"We must also keep in mind that those fleeing persecution often do not have the necessary documents and travel permissions," he added.

Afridi further said that the UNHCR is ready to support Pakistan in developing a mechanism to manage and register people in need of international protection on its territory and respond to "particular vulnerabilities."

"Pakistan has remained a generous refugee host for decades. This role has been acknowledged globally but more needs to be done to match its generosity," he added.

Islamabad has received the largest influx of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of Kabul in 1979.

Pakistan has also maintained militants — including those of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — use Afghan soil to train fighters and plan attacks inside Pakistan.