The PoR card modification centres (PCM) were opened in Peshawar and Haripur cities of North West Frontier Province, Quetta in Balochistan and Karachi in Sindh. A fifth centre will be opened shortly in Lahore in Punjab province. The centres are run by Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees and UNHCR.
"This is not a new registration," stressed Kilian Kleinschmidt, UNHCR's assistant representative in Pakistan. "It is only for registered Afghans who already received their PoR cards during the registration exercise of October 2006 - February 2007."
The purpose of the PCM centres is to update, correct or modify the details recorded on the PoR cards previously issued by NADRA. These include mistakes in the spelling of names and dates of birth, the inclusion of new born babies, and children who turned five and now need their own cards. Each modification costs 55 rupees (67 US cents). Damaged, stolen or lost PoR cards can also be replaced.
Before modifications can take place, valid reference documents must be presented, such as birth certificates, Basic Health Unit (BHU) card/vaccination card, school certificates, driving licences, passports, refugee camp card or marriage certificates.
More than 170 Afghans had their cards modified at the PCM centres during a pilot period before the official opening.
"I came here to replace our PoR cards that were burned in a short-circuit fire at home five months ago," said Intezar, who lives in Panian refugee village near Haripur. "We lost everything in that fire, including quilts, clothes and 45,000 rupees (over US$550). But thank God that we were able to save our three children who were sleeping in that room."
He added, "After this tragedy, my family was very upset. My sons have to go outside and we were scared the police would arrest them because they didn't have their cards with them. Nobody is going to accept burnt cards."
The family was visibly relieved when they received their new PoR cards at the Haripur centre.
Fellow Afghan, Sial, also came to the centre once he heard it was open. "I was loading sacks about seven months ago. I bent over and the PoR card broke. I was worried because sometimes the police asked for my identification and I knew they wouldn't accept my broken card."
Mohammed Qazafi, NADRA's manager at the Haripur centre, said, "The pace is very slow because most of the Afghans don't know about this centre yet. But we are expecting a huge number in the coming days. We can update and modify 15-20 cases daily."
More than 2.1 million Afghans were registered in the government registration exercise that ended in February 2007. Over 425,000 have repatriated to Afghanistan since then, leaving some 1.7 million registered Afghans still in Pakistan today.
UNHCR's Kleinschmidt said that last year's registration "was a massive exercise that helped us get a clearer profile of the Afghan population in Pakistan. But it was just a first step. Now we need to maintain the database with the most accurate, updated biodata that will help us plan for the future of this group."
He added, "The Afghans need the cards to be accurate and updated - ensuring access to basic services. The cards are very well respected by the authorities and service providers."
By Asif Shahzad
in Haripur, Pakistan