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Pakistan to close Afghan refugee camps in tribal region

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Islamabad (dpa) - Pakistan has decided to shut down all the Afghan refugee camps in the country's tribal region bordering Afghanistan by August 31, a U.N. spokesman Friday said.

"Approximately 105,000 refugees will be sent back to Afghanistan with the closure of all the 32 camps located in the Bajur and Kurrum agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA),'' the spokesman for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement issued in Islamabad.

FATA consists of seven semi-autonomous regions, each called an agency.

The UNHCR is repatriating the refugees under a three-year tri-partite agreement signed between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UNHCR some three years ago.

The spokesman said that Pakistan's government cited security reasons for the closure of the remaining camps in FATA, adding the decision was taken at a high level meeting of the UNHCR and Pakistan's government officials in the northwestern city of Peshawar Thursday.

"The UNHCR will assist and facilitate Afghans in repatriating to their country,'' the spokesman said, adding Afghans will also be informed about special registration procedures aimed to ease the repatriation process.

The government has already closed all the refugee camps in South Waziristan and North Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan's Paktika and Khost provinces.

Pakistan army troops have been combing the North and South Waziristan regions since early this year amid repeated allegations from Kabul that the al-Qaeda and Taliban use Pakistani border territory for subversive activities inside Afghanistan.

UNHCR through its voluntary repatriation programme has so far assisted more than 2.5 million Afghans to return to their country since 2002.

But according to the spokesman, there are still more than 3 million Afghans in Pakistan, of which around 1.3 million live in 116 refugee camps mostly situated in the Northwestern Frontier Province (NWFP) and southwestern Balochistan.

UNHCR plans to spend some 12 million dollars on its ongoing refugee repatriation and other programmes operation in Pakistan during the current year.

Meanwhile, Japan has provided 2 million dollars to the UNHCR to support its refugee operations in Pakistan.

"The much needed Japanese financial assistance will help UNHCR continue welfare efforts for refugees in Pakistan,'' said Guenet Guebre Christos, UNHCR Country Representative in Pakistan. dpa nj jh

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