UN opens new centre in Pakistan for safe return of Afghan refugees
The UN on Wednesday inaugurated its second voluntary repatriation centre in Pakistan's restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to facilitate safe return of up to 10,000 refugees daily.
Peshawar: The UN on Wednesday inaugurated its second voluntary repatriation centre in Pakistan's restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to facilitate safe return of up to 10,000 refugees daily.
The new centre in the province would enable United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to facilitate the return of refugees through the Torkham border crossing, a key border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The centre is situated at Azakhel in Nowshera district, some 40 kilometers east of Peshawar.
UNHCR Representative in Pakistan Indrika Ratwatte said, "The extension is an important decision by Pakistan which recognises the importance of policies to manage the legal stay of registered Afghans in Pakistan".
"Pakistan has ensured that the repatriation remains voluntary and that returns are conducted in safety and dignity," Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees Imran Zeb Khan said.
Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal asked Afghan refugees to return to their homeland "despite the challenges and to join the nation-building process".
Zakhilwal said "the repatriation remains voluntary and the fact that Afghan refugees are returning of their free will demonstrates confidence in the efforts of the national unity government".
Since 2002, UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme has helped nearly 3.9 million Afghans return home from Pakistan.
Around 167,228 registered Afghan refugees have returned home from Pakistan so far this year.
UNHCR now has three voluntary repatriation centres in Pakistan -- two in Chamkani and Azakhel and one in Baleli, Quetta in Balochistan.
Since July, there has been an increase in the number of Afghans voluntarily repatriating to Afghanistan.
The spike in returns coincides with the introduction of tighter border management controls at the Torkham border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Afghans now need valid passports and visas in order to enter Pakistan.
The increase in UNHCR's voluntary repatriation and reintegration cash grant has significantly contributed to the increase in number of people opting to return. The cash grant was doubled from USD 200 to USD 400 per individual in June, which is approximately USD 2,800 for a family of seven.
Pakistan claims to be the second largest refugee hosting country with some 1.4 million Afghans. It says another 600,000 Afghans reside in the country irregularly.
On September 9, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif extended the stay of registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan until March 31 next year.