200,000 refugees return in exodus from Pakistan: UNHCR

ISLAMABAD/London –  More than 200,000 Afghan refugees have been repatriated from Pakistan this year, nearly half of them in September alone, UNHCR said Tuesday, the highest number since the US toppled the Taliban in 2002.

The tsunami of refugees returning to the war-torn country comes after Pakistan tightened its border controls in June and began cracking down on undocumented Afghans.

The vast majority – more than 185,000 – returned after July, with nearly 98,000 crossing the border in September alone, UNHCR spokesman Qaisar Khan Afridi told AFP.

“From January until today, the number of refugees voluntarily repatriating to Afghanistan has crossed the figure of 200,000,” Afridi said.

More and more appear to be going every day, with officials saying that the first four days of October saw up to 5,000 returnees daily.

An Amnesty International report Tuesday said Pakistan hosted 1.
6 million refugees, making it the third largest refugee hosting nation in the world.

But UNHCR said the figure, based on its own data, was already out of date and should be revised to 1.
4 million after the movement since July.

The agency also estimates that a further one million undocumented refugees are in Pakistan.

Since 2009, Islamabad has repeatedly pushed back a deadline for them to return, but fears are growing that the latest cutoff date in March 2017 will be final.
Pakistani officials said the increase came after they vowed to tighten border controls, particularly at the porous Torkham Gate crossing.

However UNHCR cited an array of other reasons that could be helping drive the rush back into Afghanistan, including increasing anxiety and insecurity for refugees about life in Pakistan.

Other factors include the UNHCR decision to double its cash grant for voluntary returnees from $200 to $400 per individual in June, and a campaign by the Afghan government to lure its citizens back with the slogan “My country, my beautiful country”.
  In Afghanistan, however, torn apart by more than three decades of conflict, authorities warn the number of displaced people has outpaced the capacity of the government and aid agencies to cope.

Meanwhile the EU said Monday it has struck a tentative deal with Afghanistan to take back migrants ahead of a conference in Brussels aimed at securing international financial aid for the war-ravaged nation.

However, European Union officials have denied that aid pledges would depend on the Kabul government accepting the return of tens of thousands of Afghans from an overstretched Europe.

10 COUNTRIES HOST HALF of

WORLD’S REFUGEES: AMNESTY

Ten countries accounting for 2.
5 percent of world GDP are hosting more than half the world’s refugees, Amnesty International said Tuesday as it slammed what it called the selfishness of wealthy nations.

In a report on the plight faced by the world’s 21 million refugees, the London-based human rights body lamented that countries immediately neighbouring crisis zones bear the brunt of the global refugee problem.

Fifty-six percent of refugees are being sheltered in 10 countries, according to the report, in which Amnesty proposed a solution whereby the world’s countries find a home for 10 percent of the planet’s refugees every year.

“A small number of countries have been left to do far too much just because they are neighbours to a crisis,” said Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty, presenting the report entitled “Tackling the global refugee crisis: from shirking to sharing responsibility”.

“That situation is inherently unsustainable, exposing the millions fleeing war and persecution in countries like Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq to intolerable misery and suffering.

“It is time for leaders to enter into a serious, constructive debate about how our societies are going to help people forced to leave their homes by war and persecution.

Amnesty said the top refugee hosting country was Jordan, which has taken in more than 2.
7 million people, followed by Turkey (more than 2.
5 million); Pakistan (1.
6 million) and Lebanon (more than 1.
5 million).

The remaining six nations listed in the top 10 each hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees: Iran (979,400); Ethiopia (736,100); Kenya (553,900); Uganda (477,200); Democratic Republic of Congo (383,100), and Chad (369,500).

The statistics are based on figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Amnesty said many of the world’s wealthiest nations “host the fewest and do the least”.

“It is not simply a matter of sending aid money.
Rich countries cannot pay to keep people ‘over there’,” it said.

The “self-interest” of such countries meant the international refugee crisis was set to get worse, not better, Amnesty claimed.

“If every one of the wealthiest countries in the world were to take in refugees in proportion to their size, wealth and unemployment rate, finding a home for more of the world’s refugees would be an eminently solvable challenge,” said Shetty.

Published in The Nation newspaper on 05-Oct-2016

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