ISLAMABAD - The Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Thursday expressed concerns over the increasing incidents of detention of Afghan refugees holding Proof of Registration cards in Pakistan, and urged law enforcement authorities to provide protection to refugees from harassment, extortion and arrest.
Adressing a joint press briefing with Chief Commissioner Afghan Refugees Dr Imran Zeb Khan and UNHCR Representative in Pakistan Neill Wright, Federal Minister for SAFRON Lieutenant General (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch said the PoR Cards issued to Afghan refugees by Pakistan’s NADRA remain valid protection documents until renewal of the existing cards. In this regard, discussions are already underway among SAFRON, UNHCR and NADRA to finalise the card renewal modalities, he said.
“While the technical and financial issues are being finalised, the current PoR cards, despite holding an expiry date of 31 December 2012 remain valid, and I urge all the law enforcement authorities to comply with the government’s commitment to providing protection to the refugees.”
Referring to the government’s decision of not taking action against Afghan refugees whose PoR cards expired in December 2012, Baloch said, “We agreed to maintain and extend our exemplary hospitality to our Afghan brothers and sisters until 31 December 2015, providing them with time to return to their war-torn country.
However, I’m deeply concerned about the reports of extortion and detention of refugees.”
Dr Imran assured that the PoR card-holders would continue to be protected as refugees in Pakistan. “Registered Afghans are living in Pakistan legally and no action should be taken against them under the Foreigners Act. We stand committed to ensure continued protection of refugees.”
Neill Wright commended the efforts of Pakistan in safeguarding the rights of refugees on its soil. “In recognition of Pakistan’s generosity, we are expanding the peaceful co-existence programme (RAHA) to help rehabilitate communities affected by hosting Afghans, and to boost education, health, water and other services to those communities still hosting the refugees.”
Pakistan currently hosts 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees. Since 2002, UNHCR has assisted Pakistan in facilitating the voluntary return of around 3.8 million Afghan refugees back to their country.