The Role of UNHCR and Afghan Refugees in Pakistan

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  • November 2011

    The protection and shelter of millions of Afghans on Pakistan soil for over three decades has amplified the image of UNHCR as a humanitarian institution, which has worked along with the government of Pakistan to manage the burden of the largest caseload of refugees in the world. The office is credited with having carried out the largest repatriation of Afghans (approximately 3.6 million) to their home country since 2002. This operation has greatly enhanced the credibility and esteem of the UNHCR both within Pakistan and Afghanistan. The organisation coordinated the census of Afghans in Pakistan in 2005 followed by a nation-wide registration exercise conducted between October 2006 and February 2007, providing the much needed data for policy makers to formulate comprehensive strategies to cope with refugees. However, the agency has faced many challenges while administering and protecting Afghans. It has been criticised for carrying out the repatriation at a time when the situation in Afghanistan is far from stable. Moreover, its prolonged stay and collaboration with the government is engendering suspicions that it is not genuinely interested in resolving the refugee problem. Critics point out that both UNHCR and Afghans are not going to leave Pakistan as both have a vested interest in extending their stay—as it means employment for large numbers and a share of the pie of assistance.