Geneva, July 21 (IANS) The UN refugee agency UNHCR on Friday said it welcomes this week’s launching of a Pakistan government programme to register undocumented Afghans living in the country, estimated between 600,000 to one million.
“This significant step will help regularise the stay for many Afghans at a time when return to their home country may not be possible,” UNHCR spokesperson Duniya Aslam Khan was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.
Afghans registered under this new scheme will receive Afghan Citizen cards, providing them legal protection from arbitrary arrests, detention or deportation under Pakistan’s Foreigner’s Act, said the UNHCR.
“The citizen cards will allow Afghans to stay in Pakistan for the time being until they can be issued documents such as passports, by the government of Afghanistan,” said Khan.
The initiative will bring much needed relief for many Afghan families where some were registered refugees, while others had no legal status.
The UNHCR said the registration of undocumented Afghans followed three years of consultations between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan and refugeed agency. It formed part of Pakistan’s Comprehensive Policy on the Repatriation and Management of Afghans, endorsed by its Cabinet in February.
The plan included: Extending the validity of the Proof of Registration cards to some 1.4 million registered Afghans refugees until the end of 2017, a commitment to adopt a national refugee law and a visa regime for different categories of Afghan refugees who have the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards.
The six-month registration programme began on July 20 with the launch of a pilot in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad and the north-western city of Peshawar, which hosts the largest number of undocumented of Afghans.