EghtesadOnline: Describing the situation of Afghan refugees across the world, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in Pakistan says Iran has been exemplary host of Afghan refugees for past 37 years.
In an exclusive interview with IRNA, Indrika Ratwatte said at a time when many countries are closing doors on refugees Iran and Pakistan are still hosting millions of Afghan refugees and the hospitality is commendable.
He added that there are three UNHCR refugee repatriation centers in Pakistan; two in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and one in Balochistan (almost near Afghanistan border) and these days, almost 5,000 Afghan refugees are leaving Pakistan for their homeland 'pre day'.
“According to International Organization of Migrants so far 160,000 undocumented Afghan have also gone back this year,” he said.
He said that in Pakistan there are 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees whereas in Iran there are 900,000 registered Afghan refugees. He further said that according to Pakistan government estimates there are 600,000 undocumented Afghans.
“Iran and Pakistan are the largest refugee hosting countries still today and they have done that because of their Islamic values and because of the principles of hospitality and we should continue with those good traditions in a world where many countries are closing doors on refugees,” he said.
He went on to say that Iran has been exemplary host of Afghan refugees, the vast majority of 900,000 registered Afghan refugees in Iran are not living in camps they are living in urban areas and they have access to education and this is amazing.
“When Afghan refugees first came to Iran average literacy rate was 10 to 15 percent but today it is 70 percent, because the Iranian government has enabled them access to Iranian schools,” he noted.
The UNHCR official added that the Iranian government has also given health insurance to the Afghan refugees again something very important.
“Lastly Iran has also registered the undocumented Afghan refugees and asked Afghan government to provide them passport so that they could give them visas which I believe is a very sensible way to manage the undocumented refugees,” he said.
Talking about the repatriation process of Afghan refugees in Pakistan he said that since January to June the repatriation number was very low about twelve to thirteen thousand, since the middle of July certain things have happened and that have increased the repatriation drastically and today 172,000 refugees have gone back through UNHCR repatriation process.
He said that UNHCR has increased the repartition allowance from 200 US dollars per person to 400 US dollars per person.
Indrika Ratwatte said that the UNHCR is underfunded and hoped the donors in the conference next week in Brussels would pledge more resources for Afghan refugees.
He strongly believed that the most important issues for Afghan government to deal with, is preparing facilities and provide more peace and security in the country for those refugees who would like to return to Afghanistan.
'Their (Afghan refugees) main concern is security, livelihood and access to basic services. The afghan refugees are very well informed about what is happening in Afghanistan.'
He hoped that Pakistan government would give more time beyond March 31st, 2017 deadline to Afghan refugees to stay here in Pakistan. He added that to make the repatriation successful it has to be done in voluntary manner in safety and dignity.
“I certainly support extension in the deadline of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan because the Afghanistan government cannot address the challenge of Afghan refugees in three months it needs time,” he noted.
He went on to say that the UNHCR always promotes the most cordial and close cooperation between the governments dealing with the issue of refugees. “We support the Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process because this is the first and most critical step for peace in Afghanistan,” he said.
“We encourage Pakistan to be patient and continue with their hospitability and generosity for these people which they have extended for past 37 years.
He said 96 percent of total Afghan refugees are living in Iran and Pakistan.