Afghan registration passes half million mark

More than half a million Afghans living in Pakistan have been registered in a drive to provide them with official identification for a three-year period, UN officials said on Thursday.

The US $6 million registration exercise started on 15 October, is a follow-up to a comprehensive Afghan census conducted in Pakistan in February and March 2005, which found more than 3 million Afghans were still living in the country.

“After an initial slow start, the pace [of registration] has picked up in recent weeks and a total of over 525,000 Afghans have so far registered themselves with Pakistani authorities,” Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

“Some 19,000 Afghans are being registered daily in over 60 locations countrywide and the daily registration numbers have been increasing steadily, especially in NWFP,” Tan added.

The campaign is to continue until the end of the year.

A provincial breakdown of Afghan registration so far suggests that more than half of those registered come from NWFP, another 22 percent from Balochistan, 15 percent from Punjab, 10 percent from Sindh and 1.3 percent from Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

In NWFP, the accelerated pace of Afghan refugee registration may be linked to the detention of over 1,000 Afghan nationals over the past month during a police crackdown following a series of explosions in the provincial capital.

At least five explosions have taken place in Peshawar since September 19, including one on October 20, which killed at least eight people and injured dozens more, local media reported.

“More than 1,100 Afghan refugees have been arrested [by city police] under different sections of law during the one-month crackdown,” a leading national daily, The News, reported on Thursday.

Some 20 percent of those detained have been deported to Afghanistan, the newspaper report said quoting Peshawar city police chief Habib-ur-Rehman.

Some 2,000 Afghans were arrested during a similar clampdown in March this year.

The ongoing registration campaign aims to provide Afghan refugees with temporary legal status through a Proof of Registration (PoR) card, which recognises the bearer as an Afghan citizen living temporarily in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) is conducting the exercise, using fingerprint biometrics and photos to record information through fixed and mobile registration centres across the country with the support of the government’s Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR) and the UN refugee agency.

Many Afghans who were not counted in the census have been showing up at registrations centres, and slowing up the process, according to NADRA.

The head of the CAR, Nayyar Agha, on Thursday asked Afghans who were not in the census to wait till registration was completed. “The government will decide on policies for their future.”

Meanwhile, a tripartite meeting between Islamabad, Kabul and the UN refugee agency, which was scheduled for early December, has been postponed until the second half of January 2007. The three parties are expected to discuss the modalities of a new voluntary Afghan repatriation programme due to start in March 2007.

More than 2.8 million Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan since 2002 under a UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation programme that ended on 14 October after five years.

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