ISLAMABAD  -    Further showing leniency toward Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan has granted permission to allow registered Afghan refugees to open their bank accounts and participate in the formal economy.

“I have issued instructions today that Afghan refugees who are registered can open bank accounts and from now onwards they can participate in the formal economy of the country. This should have been done a long time ago,” the prime minister said in a tweet posted on his social media handle.

Earlier, in a meeting on counter money-laundering measures, Prime Minister Imran Khan was informed that hurdles in the way of letting Afghan refugees in Pakistan to open bank accounts were being removed and the work to provide facility of opening bank accounts on the basis of POR (Proof of Registration) Card issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) was in progress.

It was a move to formalise over 800,000 registered Afghan refugees in the regular banking channel and to check the money transaction through informal means.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government was kind enough on Afghan refugees and granted them another extension for repatriation to their country on the request of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees when the body had stopped the repatriation process of Afghan refugees due to severe weather in Afghanistan.

The last extension given to Afghan refugees had expired in September last year but again an extension of six months was granted by the government for which UN High Commissioner for Refugees Flippo Grandi and UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination Mark Lowcock thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan for this gracious act.

As the UN High Commission for Refugees had suspended the repatriation process from Dec 1 to Feb 28 owing to harsh weather condition and even if the process would start from March, which is unlikely due to stretching of the winter season, the process of repatriation will unlikely be met in the fresh deadline.

Sources in government said that granting of permission to Afghan refugees with registration cards had several dimensions including conditionality of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to regulate economy and plug loopholes in formal economy of the country. But this step also indicated that PTI government was anticipating delay in repatriation of the Afghan refugees in the given timeframe.

The sources said that government could also take measures to bring unregistered Afghan refugees by registering them in the system so that the illegal and unofficial transaction of money through these people could also be brought under some system. There are 880,000 refugees who have been issued Afghan citizenship cards under the National Action Plan to register undocumented persons living in Pakistan.

Government officials claimed that still over 500,000 Afghan refugees living in Pakistan are not registered.

Meanwhile, terming money-laundering a menace causing irreparable loss to national economy, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that elements involved in the crime must be exposed and awarded exemplary punishment as they did not deserve any concession.

Premier Khan stressed the need of further strengthening of Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) so that the operation against people involved in money-laundering could be made more effective. Tariq Bajwa briefed the meeting about measures taken by the State Bank and commercial banks across the country to check money-laundering. The prime minister was informed that with respect to fake bank accounts , six different banks had so far been fined Rs247 million, whereas investigation against 109 officers was underway.

The prime minister was also briefed in detail about the issuance of suspicious transactions’ reports and the review and investigation of these reports by the Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU).

The Prime Minister was informed that with 1,136 suspicious transactions reports (STRs) issued during the last two months (January-February 2019), the number of STRs issued in the year 2018 stood at 8,707 as against 5,548 in 2017.

The meeting was also briefed about the value of currency and other goods confiscated by the State Bank authorities with respect to money-laundering and smuggling.

It was told that with Rs439 million of currency confiscated during July 2018 to January 2019 as against Rs131 million of the corresponding period of previous year, the Customs authorities had achieved 235 per cent increase in the confiscation of laundered or smuggled money.

The Prime Minister was told by the Customs authorities that after imposition of anti money-laundering law, a total of 335 suspicious transactions were issued during May 2016 to January 2019, which resulted into the recovery of Rs6.6 billion after the investigation of over 500 cases.

The PM was further informed that from November 2018 to January 2019, FIRs were registered and 13 people were arrested in 11 cases of confiscation of currency worth Rs305.06 million.

The prime minister was told that owing to the government’s incentives, inflow of foreign remittances had witnessed 12.5 percent increase.

Secretary Interior briefed the Prime Minister in detail about the measures being taken at borders and various airports to check money-laundering.

PRIME MINISTER STRESSES NEED OF EDUCATING YOUTH ABOUT SUFI ROLE

Prime minister Imran Khan Monday said it was need of the hour to inform young generation about the role of Sufia-e-Kiram and mysticism in the spread of Islam.

The prime minister said this while chairing a high-level meeting about highlighting mysticism and the role of Sufia-e-Kiram in the spread of Islam and establishment of an educational and research institution in that regard.

The meeting was attended by Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri, Minister for National Food and Security Sahibzada Mahboob Sultan, Punjab Auqaf Minister Pir Sayed Saeedul Hassan and others. The prime minister said that establishment of such an institution in that regard was of paramount importance where comprehensive discussion and genuine research about the services of Sufia-e-Kiram and mysticism could be done.