Islamabad granted Afghan refugees an extra six months to remain in Pakistan Wednesday as authorities stepped up efforts to work with the UN and Kabul to relocate camps to Afghanistan.
Pakistan is home to 1.5 million registered and about as many undocumented Afghan refugees, with growing insecurity in Afghanistan impeding voluntary return programmes.
“The stay of POR (Proof of Registration) card holder Afghan refugees shall be extended for a further period of six months only, till 31st December, 2016,” a statement issued by the Pakistan Prime Minister’s office said.
Registered Afghan refugees will be liable to deportation after this date, but an earlier deadline was extended by six months last December and analysts say the upcoming deadline could also be put back.
Unregistered refugees are also liable to deportation, but their repatriation is likely to take years.
The worsening security situation in Afghanistan meant that between January and June this year only 7,000 Afghans voluntarily returned to Afghanistan, according to UNHCR Pakistan.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also ordered government ministries to engage with the United Nations and the Afghan government to aim for the “gradual relocation” of refugee camps from Pakistan to Afghanistan, his office said.
Pakistan would supply wheat to the relocated camps for three years free of charge as a gesture of good will, the office said.
Next month Pakistan will host a tripartite meeting with Afghanistan and the UN to discuss the situation.
Pakistan, home for decades to millions of Afghan refugees, last week called for the support of the international community as it warned that without help, the flow of those fleeing Afghanistan’s decades-long war to Europe could increase.
After the Soviet invasion in 1979, five million Afghan refugees came to Pakistan, according to Pakistani officials, and many remain 37 years later.
Afghan refugees living mainly in camps in the poorest rural areas of Pakistan exist in administrative uncertainty because of the short duration of residence permits issued by the Pakistani authorities, who regularly threaten to deport them.