QUETTA : The Representative of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees in Pakistan Neill Wright visited Balochistan.
On a three day mission to the Province of Balochistan, Wright visited UNHCR projects in Killa Saifullah, Loralai and Ziarat, met with the Governor of Balochistan Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi and other government officials, with Afghan refugee elders, and with some of UNHCR s NGO implementing partners. His visits included several Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) initiative projects.
Neill Wright at a Press briefing the other day emphasized the importance of close cooperation with the Federal and Provincial Government in assisting both Afghan refugee communities and the local communities who have so generously hosted refugees for over three decades.
He was accompanied on his visit to the interior of Balochistan by the Deputy Commissioner for Afghan Refugees Talib Arbab. The UNHCR Representative noted that some 350,000 Afghan refugee had been hosted in refugee villages and within local communities in Balochistan. He drew attention to the success of UNHCR and its partners in providing assistance to refugee villages in the education, health, water, and sanitation sectors. However, he also stressed the significance of UNHCR programmes easing the burden on social services in local communities caused by the extended stay of refugees. UNHCR is currently implementing RAHA projects in six districts of Balochistan, with the objective of maintaining social cohesion through community development, improved livelihood and local economies, restoration of social services and infrastructure, and restoration of the environment. Having visited several RAHA projects in both Loralai and Killa Saifullah, he said UNHCR s Quetta Sub Office, through its successful RAHA projects, has helped to improve the standard of living in refugee affected and hosting areas.
He described how the RAHA initiative was one part of a broader regional Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees that was developed by the Governments of the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, and was endorsed by the international conference in Geneva in early May 2012. The Solutions Strategy aims to support voluntary repatriation, increase sustainable reintegration opportunities in Afghanistan, and provide assistance to the neighbouring host countries. UNHCR continues to support voluntary repatriation as the preferred durable solution for most of the world s refugees, and remains committed to ensuring that such returns remain voluntary, safe and orderly. So far this year UNHCR has supported the return of over 9,900 Afghan refugees from Balochistan alone.
The new Head of UNHCR Quetta Charles Lynch, said the UNHCR Sub Office in Quetta will increasingly be able to provide information on the new projects being implemented under the Solutions Strategy in Afghanistan, and will continue to facilitate voluntary repatriation. The return process is entirely voluntary, and every person opting to return must be able to make a well-informed decision. UNHCR has set up four Voluntary Returns Centres (VRCs) in Pakistan to help as many Afghans return home as possible. The VRCs, including the one in Baleli, will remain operational throughout the year.
The Commissioner for Afghan Refugees urged that the international community must play its promised role in restoring peace in Afghanistan, so that the process of organised, voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees can be completed. In the meantime, Pakistan has welcomed these Afghan refugees and hosted them, providing them with the necessary accommodation, food, health, education services and security.
Pakistan has been generously hosting large numbers of refugees for more than thirty years, and the Government is understandably hoping that in 2012 and beyond the still significant numbers of refugees will finally find a solution, mostly through opting to return to their home country.