ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet Wednesday approved an extension in the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards for Afghan refugees for two more months, thereby allowing the refugees to stay in Pakistan for another 60 days.
The decision was taken during a meeting chaired by Prime Minister (PM) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi here at the Prime Minister’s Office. While around 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees lost their refugee status in Pakistan on Sunday and the Afghans possessing PoR cards had automatically lost their legal status, the two-month extension in refugees’ stay would provide the government with a window of opportunity to deal with the issue. The PoR card system for the registered refugees was introduced with the assistance of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2009.
On the other hand, the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) had registered 670,000 undocumented Afghan nationals during the last six months across the country. The registration drive, which was launched in August last, would be completed in the first week of January. The authority had registered 350,000 Afghan citizens in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of the total 670,000 registered people.
It merits mention here that Pakistan had extended the repatriation deadline six times since 2013 but it had given a final deadline on January 3, 2018, dubbing the Afghan refugees a major source of terrorism.
A source privy to the details of the cabinet meeting told Pakistan Today that Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) had actually sought a one-year extension to facilitate the legal stay of Afghans in Pakistan. The source said the ministry had moved a summary to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat suggesting extension in the stay of the refugees till December 2018.
The source further said that SAFRON Minister Lieutenant General (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch briefed the cabinet that he had approached the United States (US) government and asked it to find a way to ensure the immediate return of Afghan refugees.
“Qadir Baloch informed the meeting that he met US Vice Foreign Secretary Nancy Jackson in Islamabad and conveyed Pakistan’s concerns in this regard. He asked Jackson to figure out a way along with the cooperation of the Afghan government for the immediate repatriation of the refugees,” the source added.
The source also said that Nancy responded by saying that the US had valued Pakistan’s efforts for hosting millions of Afghan refugees and seconded Pakistan’s point of view in this regard. However, the US official sought some more time for the repatriation of all refugees, assuring US help in this regard.
The source quoted the minister as informing his colleagues that Pakistan had to uphold its commitment to UNHCR and the Afghan government to avoid the forced return of refugees, despite the expiry of their PoR cards.
Hardly 48,000 refugees have been repatriated to their country under the voluntary return programme in 2017 as compared to around 400,000 refugees in 2016. In addition, around 200,000 undocumented Afghan nationals also returned to their country in the same year.
The voluntary repatriation programme had been suspended since October last after Afghanistan became landlocked due to winter snowfall. The return programme would likely to be started from March this year.
Moreover, the source said that though the SAFRON ministry had sought a one-year extension, the prime minister approved a two-month extension to refugees’ stay keeping in view the prevailing security situation in Afghanistan and the economic opportunities available for Afghans in the host country.
The cabinet also approved a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Pakistan Meteorological Department to promote cooperation in the fields of sciences and technology. The MoU between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan and Republic of Sao Tome and Principe on bilateral consultation was also approved.
Approval for the signing of an executive programme of a cultural agreement between Pakistan and China was also granted for the year 2018-2022. Further, ratification of the decisions taken by the Cabinet Committee on Energy (CCE) in its meeting held on December 12, 2017, was also accorded.
The cabinet also ratified the decisions taken by the Economic Coordination Committee (CCE) of the cabinet in its meeting held on December 29, 2017. Ratification of the decision taken by the ECC of the cabinet in its meeting held on January 5, 2018, was also approved.
The cabinet also approved the extension of Prime Minister’s Fee Reimbursement Scheme for less developed areas. Higher Education Commission chairman informed the cabinet that the scheme would be extended to 114 districts in different parts of the country, including Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Southern Punjab, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.