Pakistan + 1 more

Pakistan: Government plans to remove Afghan refugees from capital

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ISLAMABAD, 5 August (IRIN) - Plans to evict Afghan refugees still living in the Pakistani capital and the adjacent city of Rawalpindi are still being worked out, following a formal announcement of the move earlier this week.

"The schedule and further details regarding options of repatriation or relocation of Afghans living in Islamabad [capital] and Rawalpindi will be announced shortly. We are working on it with all the relevant bodies," Jehangir Khan, head of the state-run Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees (CAR) said, on Thursday, from the western city of Peshawar.

Citing security concerns, Pakistani authorities called for the repatriation of all Afghan refugees in the area through the voluntary repatriation programme of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or to relocate them to another area, following a high level meeting on Tuesday.

Additionally, the meeting called for the eviction of all Afghan students studying in madrassahs across the country, after a controversial decision by Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff to bar all foreign students to study at the schools in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks in London.

According to the Afghan census earlier this year in March, about 64,000 Afghan refugees are living in the two cities, with an overwhelming majority - some 45,000 - living in Islamabad. The I-11 slum area of in the city - largely populated by Afghans - remained a source of concern for police, with many residents purportedly involved in criminal activities, officials charge.

But this week's decision to evict the Afghans won't be the first. Afghan nationals in Islamabad have been asked by capital authorities several times in the past to leave the area, with residents being served eviction notices at least twice in 2003 and 2004. However, the government has failed to implement the decision.

Meanwhile, Pakistan on Wednesday declined an official request by Kabul to drop the move, as well as the decision to bar Afghan students from the country's madrassahs, local media sources reported on Thursday, following a visit by the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad to the Pakistani interior minister.

Quoting an Islamabad police report, the country's leading English-language daily Dawn on Thursday claimed that Afghan nationals were involved in 90 percent of the total crime committed in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. In addition, many Afghan women were involved in prostitution in the area, the report said.

The report also noted the concern of local police authorities saying, "Illegal Afghan immigrants, mainly women, had married or were desperate to marry Pakistanis to obtain legal status in the country." Moreover, the offices of at least seven Afghan political parties had also been operating in the capital, it said.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency has agreed to assist all Afghans in the area seeking help in returning to their homeland. "To this, UNHCR would help the Afghans wishing to avail the agency's assistance to voluntarily repatriate or relocate to any other place," Babar Baloch, an agency spokesman, reiterated in Peshawar.

[ENDS]

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