Pakistan extends Afghan refugee registration cards for one year

July 11, 2024 2:51 pm

[Source: Reuters]

Pakistan will extend expired registration cards given to almost 1.5 million Afghans for a year, the prime minister said on Wednesday, after the U.N. refugee commissioner asked for a pause in the country’s plan to repatriate refugees.

It was not immediately clear whether the extension of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards that expired in June would exempt holders from any future deportations, and the Pakistani foreign office said the repatriation plan would continue.

“The cabinet accepted (the proposal) of a one-year extension of the PoR cards of 1.45 million Afghan legal residents that expired on June 30, 2024,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s office said in a statement.

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The cards, which the U.N. describes as a “critical” identity document, would now be valid until June 30, 2025.

Islamabad began expelling undocumented foreigners, mostly Afghans, in November last year amid a row over accusations that Afghanistan harbours Pakistani Islamist militants, a charge its ruling Taliban deny.

Pakistan says it is also struggling to host millions of refugees as it grapples with an economic crisis.

Last year, Pakistan announced a huge drive to repatriate foreigners without visas, mostly the roughly 4 million Afghans who crossed the border during 40 years of armed conflict in their home country and after the Taliban seized power in 2021.

More than 500,000 Afghans have returned from Pakistan since the campaign was announced, according to U.N. figures.

The first phase of the plan targeted those who were not formally registered, though advocates and some of the PoR card holders said that in some cases they were also pressured by local authorities to leave.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, earlier this week wrapped up a three-day visit during which he called for the extension of the registration cards and said the international community should find more solutions for refugees and host countries such as Pakistan, a UNHCR statement said.

It said Grandi also appreciated that the repatriation plan had been suspended and sought assurances it would stay on hold.

A spokeswoman for Pakistan’s foreign office denied that the plan was on hold. “It may be noted that no such understanding has been given by Pakistan to the UNHCR, including in recent meetings with the High Commissioner for Refugees,” she said.

“IFRP (Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan) remains in place and is being implemented in an orderly and phased manner.”