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Kabul wants refugees back after Pakistan PM proposed nationality to Afghans

Afghanistan wants refugees back, a senior Afghan diplomat said on Monday, days after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that nationality would be granted to Afghans born in Pakistan.
Khan’s proposal was opposed by Baloch nationalists but hailed by Pashtoon nationalists and some senior political leaders.
“Imran Khan’s statement was in a positive spirit but Afghan government policy is to repatriate our citizens in a gradual and graceful process. But expect Pakistan to extend their support during their stay till return,” Afghanistan Deputy Ambassador to Pakistan Zardasht Shams told Arab News.
“I am speaking on our policy on refugees which has not changed so far.” He recalled President Ashraf Ghani’s announcement that refugees would be repatriated in two years and he has also assigned the task to various ministries to implement the plan.
“We cannot take them (refugees) by force and repatriation will be voluntary. But the policy is that we want the return of all refugees from Pakistan and Iran,” he said.
The Afghan diplomat’s comments came after Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced on Sept. 27 that the federal Cabinet had extended the stay of the Afghan refugees until June 2019.
Chaudhry said the prime minister also issued instructions for the formulation of a comprehensive policy about the Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, adding that Pakistan cannot expel the refugees under its international commitments.
The previous extension of refugees, who have Proof of Registration (PoR) cards, expired on Sept. 30 and with a new extension, the refugees could stay for nine more months.
Shams said Pakistan has not officially informed the Afghan government about the extension but insisted the decision will also be applicable for those documented this year, who had previously been considered unregistered.
He said around 880,000 were documented in the process that was concluded earlier this year.
The UN refugee agency says a total of 12,162 have voluntarily repatriated this year from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
“We still have 1.4 million Afghan refugees remaining in Pakistan,” Shams told Arab News.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have now established a bilateral working group on refugee returns and reintegration within the framework of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan on Peace and Solidarity.
Afghan refugees welcomed the nine-month extension but urged the Pakistani government to announce a long-term extension unless peace is returned to the war-ravaged country.
“We welcome the Pakistani Cabinet’s recent decision as a positive step but we want an extension until all facilities are available and peace is restored in Afghanistan,” Sherzad, the spokesman for an Afghan refugee committee, told Arab News from Peshawar.
Sherzad also praised Imran Khan’s citizenship proposal and said Afghan refugees were facing problems in education, health and business in Pakistan.
“Imran Khan’s announcement about citizenship has raised high hopes among the refugees for a better life,” he said.
Chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan Siraj-ul-Haq also backed Khan’s decision and said if European countries and the US grant citizenship to hundreds of thousands of people then why should Pakistan deprive Afghans of this right?
“I also support Imran Khan’s proposal for an open border with Afghanistan and want this to be implemented,” the Jamaat chief told Arab News in Islamabad.
Imran Khan, in his July 26 victory speech, had said he wanted an open border with Afghanistan, like the European states, at a time when the security forces are busy in fencing the border with Afghanistan, which is mostly porous.
Akhtar Jan Mengal, chief of the Balochistan National Party, a partner in the ruling coalition, has opposed Imran Khan’s nationality proposal and said the move is contrary to the agreement with his party which called for the repatriation of Afghan refugees.

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