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Pakistan to restart drive to repatriate Afghan refugees

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Pakistan is preparing to launch the second phase of repatriation of undocumented Afghans, amid tense relations between the two countries, a media report said on Monday.

The Interior Ministry had issued directives to district authorities and police to expedite the mapping, and collecting data of the whereabouts of the Afghan Citizen Card (ACC) holders and given March 25, Monday, as the deadline to complete the exercise, the Dawn newspaper reported quoting documents.

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

No date has yet been announced, but the official said the campaign to repatriate hundreds of thousands of ACC holders could begin in early to mid-summer, following approval from the federal government.

“We have already started the mapping process,” Abid Majeed, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s additional chief secretary, told the newspaper.

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“It will pick up the pace after Ramazan and we hope to complete the survey before April 30,” he said.

According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, there are 2.18 million documented Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

This includes the 1.3 million refugees holding Proof of Registration (PoR) cards as per the census carried in 2006-07, as well as an additional 8,80,000 refugees granted ACCs following a registration drive in 2017.

The collapse of the civilian government in Kabul following the return of the Taliban to power in August 2021 saw another influx of worried Afghans into Pakistan.

Officials put their number anywhere between 600,000 and 800,000, some with valid travel documents, but an uncertain future.

After the October 31, 2023 deadline ahead of the first drive, no official data was released as to how many of the estimated 1.7 million undocumented Afghans have left for their country since November 2023.

Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who had called the repatriation of undocumented Afghans “unacceptable”, struck a more conciliatory tone in an interview with Tolo News recently, calling for more refugee leniency from Pakistan.

However, undeterred by criticism from Kabul and the concerns voiced by human rights bodies and the UN, Islamabad appears to have made up its mind to continue with its repatriation programme. (PTI)

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