UNHCR doubles grant for Afghan refugees returning home

Islamabad: The United Nations refugee agency on Wednesday said it would increase assistance package for registered Afghan refugees who were opting to return to Afghanistan under the UNHCR facilitated voluntary return programme. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi made the announcement as he concluded his first tri-nation visit to Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, Xinhua news ageny reported.  "As an immediate step, he announced to double the existing individual assistance package for returnees from an average of $200 to $400 per person," the official said. Grandi assured Pakistan of the UNHCR's continued support in assisting the 1.5 million Afghan refugees currently residing in the country. The Proof of Registration Cards or PoRs, that allow registered Afghan refugees to stay in Pakistan will expire on June 30 and the government has not yet extended its period. Afghan officials said they have requested Pakistan to extend the PoR cards for two more years so they are able to make arrangements to accommodate the returnees. Besides the registered ones, Pakistan also hosts about one million un-registered Afghan refugees. Islamabad and Kabul have agreed on a plan to document the unregistered Afghans. There is now a concerted push from the Pakistani government to repatriate a large number of the almost one million refugees living in Peshawar. UNHCR has set aside funds for 60,000 returnees. But so far this year just over 6,000 have actually crossed the border permanently, according to the UN agency. The high commissioner also called on the international community to redouble their engagement in Afghanistan and support Afghan government's efforts at this critical juncture of its nation building and reconciliation processes. Commending Pakistan's generosity for hosting one of the world's largest protracted refugee populations, the high commissioner said the international community needs to support solutions in Afghanistan through robust development investments. "Traditional approaches to solving protracted refugee situations were not enough and therefore there is a need for innovative solutions," Grandi said.