Pakistan and Afghanistan have announced plans to work together over the next four months to try to document about one million Afghans who are believed to be living illegally in Pakistani cities. The documentation effort is aimed at trying to determine the deadline for when all Afghan refugees in Pakistan are expected to be safely and voluntarily repatriated.
The protracted Afghan refugee situation in Pakistan has become a major irritant in bilateral relations because Pakistani authorities are increasingly blaming the refugees for a rise in criminal and militant activity in parts of the country. The United Nations estimates there are 1.6 million registered refugees, and about one million who remain undocumented.
Islamabad’s renewed counterterrorism efforts include measures to repatriate both official and unofficial Afghan refugees from Pakistan. Over the past three months, police raids against Afghan-dominated neighborhoods and refugee camps have helped spur an exodus of more than 50,000 Afghans back into Afghanistan. Most of them are said to be undocumented Afghans whom Pakistani authorities consider a security threat.
Pakistan wants all registered Afghan refugees to leave by the end of 2015. But the sudden increase in returning Afghans has already worried the government in Kabul, which is facing severe budget and security problems at a time when there is less international assistance.
However, this week’s high-level discussions in Islamabad appear to have eased tensions and led to a more cooperative effort to document unregistered Afghans.
Chief Commissioner of Afghan Refugees Imran Zeb Khan tells VOA his institution will lead the process of documenting more than a million Afghans. He says a joint six-member committee of Afghan and Pakistani experts will oversee the massive exercise.