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Afghanistan/Pakistan: Repatriation of DPs living outside camps postponed

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By Zulfiqar Ali

PESHAWAR, March 4: The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has put off repatriation of Afghan refugees living outside the camps in the NWFP and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), officials said.

A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency told Dawn here on Tuesday that a very small number of refugees living in the urban areas had expressed desire to go back to their country under the voluntary repatriation programme, therefore, their (urban refugees) repatriation had been delayed till the end of March.

The spokeswoman said urban areas' refugees would not be entertained in validation centres, established at Takhta Baig in Khyber Agency and at Alizai in Kurram Agency for one month.

Initially, she said, the UNHCR would focus only on refugee camps in the NWFP and Fata and had constituted enough mobile teams to facilitate the intended returnees. Mobile teams would visit camps to verify those refugee families who had aspiration to go back to their country, she added.

Sources said many refugee families arrived at the United Nations validation centre at Takhta Baig, Khyber Agency since the UNHCR resumed voluntary repatriation programme on Monday, but the UN staff refused to process their documents.

However, an official conceded that as a policy matter the government had decided to vacate refugee camps this time and it had been decided that Afghan Commissionerate and the UNHCR would focus only on camps during the ongoing repatriation process.

Last year, he said, repatriation programme was not conducted in an organised way and, as a result, a large number of refugees sneaked back into Pakistan after availing encashment and food facilities.

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400,000 DPs to be repatriated in a year

By Our Reporter

ISLAMABAD, March 4: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers on Tuesday told President Gen Pervez Musharraf that arrangements were being made for voluntary repatriation of about 400,000 Afghan refugees this year.

During a meeting with the president, he said that last year about 1.5 million refugees were repatriated with the help of the UNHCR.

He said an agreement to be signed between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UN agency in Brussels on March 17 would be a landmark.

President Musharraf said reconstruction activities in Afghanistan were very important and they would provide necessary conditions for further repatriation of refugees.

"There is a need to develop water resources in Afghanistan on the pattern of delayed action dams in Balochistan," he said.

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UNHCR visit to refugee camp cancelled

By Our Correspondent

MIANWALI, March 4: The visit of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers to Kot Chandna refugee camp has been cancelled due to bad weather.

Meanwhile, UNHCR programme officer Naeem Jan Durrani told newsmen here that the population of the camp was 132,000 which had now reduced to 42,000 as the remaining Afghans had scattered in all cities, towns and villages to earn their living.

He said as the UNHCR and other donor agencies had 'cut' assistance to these refugees, the life had become hard for the refugees. The UNHCR was providing only basic health and primary education facilities, he said.

He said the UNHCR with the collaboration of the Pakistan government had launched a 'repatriation programme' on March 2 by setting up three validation centres at Khost (northern Afghanistan), All Zai (inside Kurrum Agency) and Chaman (Balochistan).

Meanwhile, Isakhel tehsil Nazim Haji Altaf distributed 2,000 blankets among Afghan refugees at Kot Chandna refugee camp on behalf of a Pakistani NGO.

NGO's managing director Malik Waseem said the blankets were being distributed on humanitarian grounds.

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