Pakistan has allowed the nearly three million Afghan refugees to stay on for an additional six months while tasking authorities to take up the issue of their return with Afghan and UNHCR officials.
The announcement in this regard by Pakistan was made yesterday ahead of today’s deadline for their return.
Pakistan had set the deadline to put pressure on the about 3 million Afghan refugees — 1.5 million registered and about as many undocumented — to return to their homeland.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif granted the six month stay till December 31, 2016, an official said.
Sharif extended the stay of the refugees in the country and asked authorities to discuss the issue of their return with Afghan officials and UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Radio Pakistan reported.
Sharif said Pakistan will supply free wheat for three years to refugee camps set up in Afghanistan to accommodate those returning from Pakistan.
Afghanistan had earlier asked to extend the stay for two more years so that it could prepare to receive the refugees.
According to UNHCR, there are 1.6 million registered and another 1 million unregistered refugees in Pakistan but local official of Pakistan put their total number to more than 3 million.
Pakistan wants early return of the refugees as they have become a security problem as militants use their camps to hide, according to Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz.
The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan meant that between January and June only 7,000 Afghans have returned to their homeland, according to UNHCR Pakistan.
Pakistan last week called for international support as it warned that without help, the flow of those fleeing Afghanistan’s decades-long war to Europe could increase.
Next month Pakistan will host a tripartite meeting with Afghanistan and the UN to discuss the situation.
Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, an estimated five million Afghan refugees crossed over to Pakistan, and many still remain in camps in the poorest rural areas of the country