"The Government of Pakistan informed UNHCR that the Ministry of SAFRON has submitted the Draft Management and Repatriation Strategy for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan (2010-2012) to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on 15 December and decision on it would be finalised soon. In the meantime there will be no action taken against registered Afghans after 31 December 2009," said a letter addressed to the UNHCR Representative in Islamabad on Wednesday, 30 December 2009.
The Government of Pakistan assured UNHCR that till the final decision by the Cabinet, the registered Afghan refugees - holding PoR cards - will be accorded due protection. Pakistan also committed that the principles of voluntarism and gradualism, in relation to Afghan returns - as enshrined in the Tripartite Agreement - will be adhered to and it shall continue to respect international norms.
The management of stay for Afghans in Pakistan and their voluntary return are governed by a Tripartite Agreement signed between Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR. Under the Agreement, the three parties have agreed in principle to extend the stay of registered Afghans in Pakistan beyond 31 December 2009.
In a separate note the Minister of SAFRON has also requested Pakistan's Ministry of Interior to issue instructions to the Provincial Home Departments and other concerned authorities to ensure that the PoR card holders should not be harassed until the final decision on the draft strategy is taken.
"We welcome this assurance from the government of Pakistan," said Khassim Diagne, Officer-in-charge for UNHCR in Pakistan. "This will help remove the concerns and anxiety among the registered Afghan population in Pakistan. This is also a gesture of continued generosity from the Government and People of Pakistan."
Some 2.19 million Afghans were registered in Pakistan, in 2007, by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) with financial and technical assistance from UNHCR. Currently there are some 1.7 million registered Afghans living in camps and urban centres in Pakistan. More than 3.5 million Afghans have returned home under a UNHCR facilitated voluntary return programme since 2002.