Pak PM Sharif urges international community to recognise ‘burden of Afghan refugees’ in meeting with UNHCR chief

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Islamabad, Jul 9 (PTI) The head of the UN refugee agency Filippo Grandi on Tuesday met with Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to discuss the situation of millions of Afghan refugees living in uncertainty since Islamabad announced a repatriation plan of what it called "undocumented aliens" last year.

During his meeting with Grandi, Commissioner of the UNHCR, Sharif urged the international community to recognise the “burden of Afghan refugees” being shouldered by Pakistan and demonstrate “collective responsibility” to deal with the issue, the Dawn newspaper reported.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) arrived in Pakistan on Sunday on a three-day visit.

“The prime minister stressed that the international community must recognise the burden being shouldered by Pakistan while hosting such a large refugee population, and demonstrate collective responsibility,” a statement from the PM’s Office said.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader added that despite numerous challenges, the country had hosted Afghan refugees with exemplary respect and dignity.

Sharif sought UNHCR’s support in mobilising adequate resources to supplement Pakistan’s efforts in this regard, urging the global refugee agency to play its role in coming up with durable solutions to address the situation of Afghan refugees.

The prime minister emphasised that the international community needed to be mindful of the socio-economic challenges and security threats that Pakistan was facing, the Dawn reported.

“The UN High Commissioner expressed gratitude for Pakistan’s generosity and hospitality in hosting millions of Afghan refugees for the past many decades and assured that UNHCR would continue to work closely with Pakistan to fulfil the basic needs of the Afghan refugees,” the statement added.

Pakistan launched the first round of repatriation of what it called “undocumented aliens” in November last year.

While no official data has been released as to how many of the estimated undocumented Afghans have left their country since November, the newspaper quoting informed sources said that half a million immigrants returned to Afghanistan via Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in the first round.

On Monday, Grandi met with Pakistan’s Minister for States and Frontier Regions, Amir Muqam, and said that UNHCR would organise a global dialogue, most likely in October, to discuss refugee-related issues, the Dawn said.

“Pakistan would be specially invited at this occasion,” the UNHCR chief said. He expressed the hope that the event will create a new dimension and avenues for the support of refugees across the globe.

“Currently, there are 1.45 million registered Afghan citizens card holders and this does not include a great number of unregistered Afghan refugees and other nationals,” federal minister Muqam said.

He added that it was a “matter of concern” that there was a decline in support for Afghan refugees and development funds for their hosting areas in Pakistan.

“We need exclusive, generous and sustainable interventions,” he said.

Grandi on Monday also called on Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar and appreciated Pakistan’s efforts and contributions in hosting Afghan refugees for decades, according to a statement by the foreign ministry. PTI GSP AKJ GSP