ISLAMABAD   -  Donor countries and agencies on Friday vowed full support to the cause of honourable and dignified repatriation of Afghan refugees and lauded Pakistan’s ‘generous hosting’ of millions of Afghan refugees over the past 40 years.

The Embassy of United States hosted a meeting of Friends of Solution Strategy for Afghan Refugees (FOSSAR) which was largely attended by diplomats, country heads and representatives of 36 donor agencies and countries.

Minister for SAFRON & Narcotics Control Shehryar Khan Afridi co-chaired the meeting with US Ambassador Paul Jones.  Secretary SAFRON Muhammad Aslam, Chief Commissioner Afghan Commissionerate Salim Iqbal and other officials were also present on the occasion.

Addressing the participants, Minister Shehryar Afridi said that Pakistan is perhaps the only country across the world that has integrated refugees with the mainstream society per the UN recommendations.

“We are taking steps to ensure redressal of issues faced by the Afghan refugee in camps. Despite being an under-developed country, Pakistan has been hosting millions of refugees for 40 years.

Despite suffering heavily due to drugs and weaponisation, Pakistan has never closed its doors on Afghan refugees. On the other hand, the national security of the developed nations is threatened with the arrival of a single boat of refugees at their shores,” he said.

He said that 85 per cent of the refugees worldwide are being hosted by third world countries. “Developed nations have to come forward and do their duty to humanity. Honourable and dignified repatriation of Afghan refugees is linked to peace in Afghanistan and world support to Afghanistan. Refugees are suffering and we need to support them,” he said.

He said that Prime Minister had allowed 1.4 million registered Afghan Refugees to open Bank accounts and to have access to banking channels, which would greatly facilitate their temporary stay and businesses, till their voluntary return.

“Mother and child care is a major issue for refugees living in camps and the donors should also help the UNHCR in this regard. We will ensure presence of UNHCR representatives in all refugee camps to help facilitate the refugees. Pakistan is generously hosting Afghan refugees and we welcome world support through UNHCR. A lot needs to be added to the refugee portfolio,” he added.

The Minister said that Pakistan did not seek even a penny from the donors in the name of refugee assistance and rather the entire funding has to be routed through the UNHCR.

There is a need to register an additional 0.5 million Afghan refugees who are aliens in Pakistan, he said.

Afridi said 85 per cent drugs are produced in Afghanistan which posed a threat to the world.  He said that 2019 marks the 40th year of the Afghan refugee hosting by Pakistan, as well as the 10th anniversary of the RAHA programme.

These two significant milestones provide a unique and timely opportunity for the international community to recognise the immense contributions made by Pakistan to the refugee cause, to reflect and capitalise on the achievements and lessons learned thus far, he added.

“The world needs to evolve a strategy to offer alternatives to the poppy growers in Afghanistan.  Pakistan is not only hosting around three million refugees but we are also hosting 0.25 million Bengalis, Beharis and other nationals. We are taking care of all these refugees and will keep doing so as this is a humanitarian cause,” he added.

The Minister said that despite not being a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and Refugee Protocols of 1967, Pakistan was extending all-out assistance to the refugees while those countries who are signatory to the UN Convention need to share the burden of Pakistan.

He said that the Government of Pakistan underscores the urgency upon the Government of Afghanistan to facilitate the return of the approximately 0.5 million undocumented Afghan nationals and ACC holders within the agreed timeframe. The Minister underlined over-arching principles of Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) to operationalise the commitments of burden- and responsibility-sharing.

Afridi expressed concern at the decrease in the voluntary repatriation grant provided to the Afghan refugees and encourage the international community to increase the cash grant to its previous level.