Proposal to close all Afghan refugee camps within three years

The Pakistani government has proposed a three-year plan to gradually close all Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan at a meeting on Tuesday on the future of Afghan refugees in Pakistan held in the Qatari capital Doha.

Some of the camps are a quarter of a century old and still house many who fled the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Participating were representatives of the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – a group that governs the voluntary repatriation programme of Afghan refugees from Pakistan.

“We have prepared a strategy to close all [Afghan refugee] camps gradually over the next three years, which has been shared in today’s meeting with UNHCR and Afghan officials in Doha,” Fehmina Taufeeq, deputy director of the ministry dealing with refugees, said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Tuesday.

“While staying committed to the principle of voluntary repatriation, we want to stress to the Afghan government, as well as to the international community, the need to provide a conducive environment inside Afghanistan to facilitate the return of Afghan nationals back to their homeland,” she added.

Some 60,000 Afghan refugees have returned so far this year since March under the voluntary repatriation assistance programme operated by UNHCR. While significant, this is just more than half the number that returned to Afghanistan in the same period in 2005.

The UN refugee agency has assisted some 2.7 million Afghan to return from Pakistan since the programme started in 2002.

Pakistan still hosts well over 2.6 million Afghans, including more than 1 million living in 70 UNHCR-administered camps mainly located in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan province.