ISLAMABAD, 4 January (IRIN) - An ongoing registration campaign, aimed at providing official identification cards to Afghan refugees, is now open to all Afghans possessing documentary evidence of their living in Pakistan at the time of the 2005 census, officials announced on Thursday.
The move applies to Afghan refugees still living in the country, who were present in 2005, but whose details are missing from the census data.
More than 3 million Afghans were found to be living in the country in a nationwide Afghan census jointly conducted by the Pakistani authorities and the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in February and March 2005.
"Afghans missing from census database, but wishing to register can approach designated registration centres in their area with any documentary evidence of their presence in Pakistan at the time of census," Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR assistant representative in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, said.
Such documentary evidence can range from an Afghan identity card called a 'Tazkeera', any medical record, school certification in Pakistan, or a voter registration card issued by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for the out-of-country Afghan presidential election of 2004. Some 738,000 Afghan refugees were registered by IOM for the polls inside Pakistan.
In addition to providing Afghan citizens with their first-ever official documentation in exile, the registration effort seeks to profile them to help provide more durable solutions and better manage their temporary stay in Pakistan.
To date, over 1.3 million Afghans have registered with the Pakistani authorities in a countrywide drive that started on 15 October last year. The US $6 million exercise will continue until 19 January.
Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) is conducting the exercise, using fingerprint biometrics and photos to record information through fixed and mobile registration centres across the country, with the support of the government's Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR) and UNHCR.
Every registered Afghan above the age of five receives a Proof of Registration (POR) card valid for three years, which recognises the bearer as an Afghan citizen temporarily living in Pakistan. Children under-five are listed on their mother's cards.
Meanwhile, the modalities of a new UNHCR-assisted Afghan voluntary repatriation programme, scheduled to start on 1 March, have been finalised. The new assistance package offers a cash grant of $60 for each returning Afghan.
Earlier, the Afghan returnees were entitled to $4 to $37 per person cash assistance depending on the distance of destination inside Afghanistan.
Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the UN refugee agency launched its voluntary repatriation assistance programme in 2002 from Pakistan and Iran - the two primary host countries of the Afghan diaspora.
The UNHCR-assisted repatriation programme has witnessed a high turnover in previous years. In the first year, returns hit 1.6 million Afghans repatriating from Pakistan, followed by a drop in numbers to around 340,000 in 2003, 380,000 in 2004 and about 450,000 in 2005.
By comparison, the number of returns during 2006 remained low, with only 132,000 Afghans repatriated, against initial UN expectations of 400,000.
UNHCR expects around 250,000 Afghans to voluntarily return from Pakistan in 2007. However, those wishing to return with UNHCR assistance should hold a valid residency card issued after registration.