380,000 Afghans re­turn from Pak­istan in 2016

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

More than 380,000 reg­is­tered Afghan refugees have re­turned from Pak­istan this year, the high­est num­ber since 2007, the United Na­tions said yes­ter­day, adding it handed out $135 mil­lion in cash as­sis­tance in the last three months alone. Fears of a crack­down on refugees in Pak­istan along with a dou­bling of the UN’s cash grant for vol­un­tary re­turnees to $400 saw a surge over the border af­ter July this year, the UN has said. “These are un­prece­dented num­bers we did not an­tic­i­pate. In Oc­to­ber alone some 148,000 re­turned, which is the high­est num­ber of re­turns in one months (sic) since Au­gust 2005,” Du­niya As­lam Khan, a spokesman for UNHCR, told AFP.

At one point UNHCR was pro­cess­ing an av­er­age of 5,500 refugees per day, she added. Es­ti­mates sug­gest that a fur­ther half a mil­lion un­reg­is­tered refugees may also have re­turned this year, though the fig­ure could not be ver­i­fied by of­fi­cials. The re­turnees face an un­cer­tain fu­ture in an Afghanistan still torn apart by decades of war, where a record half a mil­lion peo­ple were in­ter­nally dis­placed by the fight­ing in 2016, ac­cord­ing to UN fig­ures.

The mass mi­gra­tions are drain­ing lo­cal re­sources, es­pe­cially in safer ur­ban ar­eas, of­fi­cials have said. UNHCR said yes­ter­day the vol­un­tary repa­tri­a­tions will be halted from De­cem­ber 1 for a rou­tine win­ter break, re­sum­ing in March. The break will also al­low the agency time to mo­bi­lize ad­di­tional re­sources, Khan said.

UNHCR had es­ti­mated just 50,000 refugees would re­turn in 2016, based on trends from pre­vi­ous years. Khan said some 1.34 mil­lion reg­is­tered refugees still re­side in Pak­istan. A fur­ther half a mil­lion un­doc­u­mented refugees are also es­ti­mated to still be in the coun­try, mak­ing Pak­istan one of the largest refugee­host­ing na­tions in the world. Pak­istan has ex­tended a dead­line for the refugees to leave its ter­ri­tory from March 2017 to De­cem­ber next year. Some Afghan refugees have been shel­ter­ing in Pak­istan for decades, first flee­ing over the border af­ter the Soviet in­va­sion of 1979. Some 4.2 mil­lion Afghan refugees have re­turned to Afghanistan vol­un­tar­ily un­der the UNHCR-funded Vol­un­tary Repa­tri­a­tion pro­gram since 2002. — AFP

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