ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and the United Nations (UN) on Wednesday sought 363 million US dollars to support the newly-launched Pakistan Portfolio of projects under the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) in a bid to enable them return to their native country.
Federal Minister for States and Frontier Region (SAFRON) Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres during a ceremony attended by US Ambassador Richard Olson and other top UN officials urged donors community to come forward and extend financial support to new projects for refugees.
“The projects in Pakistan Portfolio will address the humanitarian and developmental basic needs of both refugees and host communities in Pakistan,” Guterres, who is on 3-day visit to Pakistan, said at the launching ceremony held here.
It is to be mentioned here that the UN had endorsed SSAR in May 2012 in Geneva that was subsequently supported by Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the donor community aimed at educating refugees in host country in order to enable them earn livelihood in their native country when they return voluntarily.
Guterres explained that the proposed projects would be implemented in refugee hosting areas in four provinces and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs) adding the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of Afghan refugees in Afghanistan were at the center of the new strategy.
With Pakistan currently giving refuge to 1.6 million Afghan refugees, over 3.8 million Afghans have returned to their native country since 2002 under the voluntary repatriation project.
Guterres hoped that refugees would voluntarily return to Afghanistan once elections in the country are successfully concluded adding that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) would explore areas in the landlocked country for attracting refugees to leave Pakistan.
The SAFRON Minister, on the occasion, also urged international community to give more support and enable voluntary repatriation as the situation of refugees was becoming more protracted.
“The international community should share Pakistan’s burden by addressing the needs of areas affected by long presence of refugees besides focusing on Afghanistan top create pull factors so that more refugees return and contribute to their national uplift,” Baloch said.
The SSAR is a multi-year strategy to find solutions for the world’s most protracted refugee caseload - Afghan refugees. The voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration of Afghan refugees in Afghanistan remains at the centre of this strategy, which also focuses on support to host and refugee communities in Pakistan and Iran, as well as on increased resettlement to third countries, as concrete demonstrations of international burden-sharing.
The Portfolio prioritizes improving access to education and health for the host and refugee communities in order to encourage peaceful co-existence. The projects also aim to enable refugees to repatriate voluntarily by empowering them with vocational and livelihood skills that will assist them to attain sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan upon return.
The minister explained that he and the UNHCR’s High Commissioner would conduct joint visits to engage with non-traditional donors, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, to raise funds to implement projects in the portfolio.
The five main sectors for project interventions are: voluntary repatriation, unhindered access to shelter and essential social services, improved livelihood opportunities and food security, environmental protection of refugees and support to host communities, and capacity building of national authorities.
The UNHCR High Commissioner is on a three-day official visit to Pakistan. During his stay, Guterres will hold meetings with top Pakistani officials, including the President, to discuss issues of mutual concern.
PRESIDENT RENEWS GOVT PLEDGE FOR AFGHAN PEACE
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres, called on President Mamnoon Hussain at the Aiwan-e-Sadr on Wednesday and discussed the matters pertaining to the Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Neill Wright, UNHCR Country Representative in Pakistan and Indrika Ratwatte, Deputy Director UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva, were also accompanying the High Commissioner.
Lt. Gen. (Retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SFRON) and Qasim M. Niaz, Secretary, Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, were also present during the meeting.
On the occasion, the President said that Pakistan shares multiple ethnic, religious and cultural commonalities with Afghanistan, adding that peace, stability and development of Afghanistan is in the best interest of the government and people of Pakistan. He reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process, saying that it was the most viable way to end violence and bring durable peace and stability to Afghanistan and the region.
The successful and peaceful conduct of recent Presidential election in Afghanistan is a welcome step forward, the President said, adding that Pakistan looks forward to working with the new Afghan leadership for the peace and stability in the region.
On return of Afghan refugees, the President said that over the last thirty-four years, Pakistan has been a patient host to millions of Afghan refugees on its soil and urged the need for the UNHCR and the international community for playing its role in creating conducive conditions for the early return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan.