Number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan growing steadily

Number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan growing steadily
Afghan refugee boy, Hayat Khan, 8, poses for a picture. About 50,000 children are born to refugees every year

The UN refugee agency said that the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) would register some 150,000 children born to the registered parents in past five years and issue birth certificates to over 330,000 Afghan children below the age of 18.

UNHCR spokesperson Dunya Islam Khan told Dawn that around 182,000 refugee children who had reached the age of five would get their separate Proof of Registration (PoR) cards by the end of the year.

She said that of total 330,000 Afghan children born to the registered parents, about 150,000 children below the age of five would be registered, but they would not get separate PoR cards.

"Separate PoR cards will be issued to refugee children of age five and above," she said. Nadra had launched renewal of PoR cards in February last and in the first phase all expired cards had been renewed in July. The PoR card system was introduced in 2009 to legalise temporary stay of the registered Afghans in Pakistan, which is not signatory to the UN refugee conventions.

In the second phase which will be completed by the end of December next the authority will register 150,000 children below the age of five while 182,000 children of age five and above would get the PoR cards.

The PoR cards issued to around 1.6 million refugees validating their stay in Pakistan had expired in Dec 2012 and the government after an agreement with the Afghan government and the UN agency extended the stay of documented refugees till Dec 2015.

Pakistan has extended stay of documented Afghan refugee for the third time. Officials said that around two million Afghans had been staying without legal documents and they did not want to return to their country due to certain reasons.

Interestingly, the voluntary repatriation process is slower than the existing birth rate of the refugees in Pakistan though the UN agency has been offering return package to the returnees. The UNHCR said that the return figure from Iran was higher compared to Pakistan in 2014 so far.

Data compiled by the UN agency shows that a total of 83,423 refugees returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2012 while the figure came down to 31,224 in 2013. According to the data, only 8,964 refugees have repatriated since January last. From Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which hosts a major portion of the registered refugees only 4,700 Afghans have returned to their country during the current year. According to the UN agency, a total of 5,725 Afghans have sought asylum in Pakistan.

"Only 31,224 refugees have retuned to Afghanistan under the UN-sponsored voluntary repatriation programme contrary to the birth of over 50,000 refugee children every year, which is a major dilemma," said an official. "The government is likely to extend stay of the refugees beyond 2015 if the current status quo continued," he remarked, saying that official policy about the deportation of undocumented Afghans had been put in cold storage. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had announced deportation of all illegal Afghans from the province in 2012 and police were ordered to take action against Afghans not having the PoR cards.

The UNHCR said in its current fact sheet that security and political transition in Afghanistan as well as the lack of sufficient development investment that contributed to enhancing voluntary repatriation or maintaining asylum space, had resulted in lower voluntary repatriation levels than anticipated.

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