ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Wednesday contradicted the statement by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that Pakistan’s Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan (IFRP) had been suspended and that the UN agency had also sought assurances that it would remain on hold.

Responding to media queries with regard to the UNHCR statement issued at the conclusion of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi’s recent three-day visit to Pakistan, Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch contradicted that any such understanding was given by Pakistan to the UNHCR and explained that “IFRP remains in place and is being implemented in an orderly and phased manner.”

“This is not true. 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,” Baloch further explained.

In a statement on Tuesday, the UNHCR stated that at the conclusion of the visit, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Grandi called for a bolstering of efforts towards longer-term solutions for Afghans in Pakistan, and support for their host communities.

Grandi visited Peshawar and Haripur in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, meeting with Afghan refugees in urban settings, as well as, in a refugee village.

“People he met shared a message of anxiety regarding their situation, but also of their desire to contribute to their communities in Pakistan, as well as, eventually in Afghanistan,” it added.

In Islamabad, Grandi met with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar, and Minister for States and Frontier Regions Amir Muqam, along with senior officials from the ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs.

“During his discussions, the High Commissioner called for the timely extension of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards, a critical identity document held by over 1.3 million Afghan refugees. He expressed appreciation that the “Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan” had been suspended and sought assurances that it would remain on hold,” the UNHCR stated.

It added that Grandi also called for Pakistan’s proud tradition of hospitality towards those Afghans with international protection needs to continue.

Recognising the challenges facing the country and the admirable generosity of the Government of Pakistan over 45 years of hosting Afghan refugees, Grandi called for an urgent reset of the aid model towards solutions and responsibility.

“We need to seize this opportunity to accelerate solutions, and have a bigger, broader vision for the Afghan people in Pakistan,” he noted.

The High Commissioner offered to work towards a dialogue later this year, which will bring together key stakeholders, including government representatives, development actors, and the private sector, to develop a package of solutions that benefits both the Afghan population living in Pakistan and the host country itself.

Grandi also committed to redoubling efforts aimed at creating conditions conducive for returns to Afghanistan including from the perspective of material conditions, access to services, job opportunities, as well as, rights – paving the way for sustainable voluntary returns in the future.

“In the meantime, as Pakistan continues to host some three million Afghans, all solutions need to be explored in addition to voluntary repatriation, including third-country resettlement and longer-term solutions within Pakistan,” it added.

In October 2023, Pakistan announced the IFRP plan to deport foreign nationals who either did not have valid visas or had overstayed their visa for more than one year.

The mass deportations primarily affected those Afghans who fled to Pakistan after Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. There were an estimated 3.8 million Afghans in Pakistan at the time the deportation policy was announced, according to the United Nations, while Pakistani authorities believed the number to be as high as 4.4 million.

Pakistan has so far deported more than 0.6 million illegally residing Afghans to their home country, Afghanistan under the IFRP.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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