Pakistan has the world’s second largest refugee population, with more than 1.5 million registered, and about a million unregistered, refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan, most of whom fled the Soviet occupation of their country in the 1980s.
The UN says the number of Afghans voluntarily returning from Pakistan has fallen to about 6,000, well below last year’s 58,211, as violence worsens in Afghanistan, where the government and its US allies are battling a stubborn Taliban insurgency.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would approach the Government of Afghanistan bilaterally on the political and diplomatic level whereas the Ministry of SAFRON will engage UNHCR and Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations (MoRR) Afghanistan to pursue and devise modalities for implementation of early returns as well as the possibility of shifting Afghan refugees gradually from Pakistan to safer and peaceful areas of Afghanistan where the Afghan Government should establish settlements,” said a Pakistan foreign office statement.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it would immediately approach Afghanistan on the political and diplomatic fronts while the ministry for frontier regions would engage with the UN refugee agency and Afghanistan’s ministry of refugees.
The talks would seek ways to ease “early returns as well as the possibility of shifting Afghan refugees gradually from Pakistan to safer and peaceful areas of Afghanistan, where the Afghan government should establish settlements,” the statement added.
Hussain Alemi Balkhi, the Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation confirmed plans for a three-way meeting on July 19 with Pakistan and the UN refugee agency.
On Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif allowed the 1.5 million registered refugees to stay on for six more months.