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UN refugee chief urges Pakistan not to label Afghan refugees ‘terrorists’

PESHAWAR: The United Nations refugee chief on Thursday urged Pakistanis not to blame Afghan refugees for terrorism in their country, amid growing public calls for their deportation and worsening relations between the two neighbours.

Warning that the roughly 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan risked becoming a “forgotten” crisis, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called on the international community to invest more funds to help them.

“My appeal is that, not only to the authorities but also to the local population: refugees as you know are not terrorists,” Grandi said during a visit to a repatriation centre outside Peshawar.

Pakistani officials have recently hinted at the possibility of deporting Afghan refugees, amid tense relations with Kabul.

A decision to renew their legal status by June 30 has not yet been announced, although past deadlines have been extended at the last minute.

The number of Afghans voluntarily returning home is down sharply this year as violence worsens in Afghanistan, where the government and its U.S. allies are fighting a stubborn Taliban insurgency.

So far, about 6,000 Afghans have chosen to return home from Pakistan in 2016, compared with 58,211 voluntary repatriations last year, according to the UNHCR.

A recent border spat between the two at the nearby Torkham crossing left four dead and thousands stranded.

On Monday, Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz told SAMAA TV that Afghan refugee camps had become “safe havens for terrorists”.

On Wednesday, federal minister Abdul Qadir Baloch warned that Pakistan was not willing to host Afghan refugees indefinitely.

“In view of the security and socioeconomic impact, the tolerance level of the host communities has reached its threshold and cannot be overstretched,” he said, adding, however, that Pakistan would not use force to evict refugees.

Pakistan has the second-largest refugee population in the world, with more than 1.5 million registered and about a million unregistered refugees from Afghanistan, most of whom fled the Soviet invasion in 1979.

UNHCR chief Grandi said he had made the case for extending the June 30 deadline to the government in talks during his two-day visit to Pakistan.

He also stressed the need for the international community to fund efforts to support Afghan refugees. “I have come here to the region on the week of World Refugee Day to highlight that Afghan refugees should not be forgotten,” he said.


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