04/18/2008, 00.00
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UN against Islamabad over repatriation of Afghan refugees

Presented last year the plan would send back 2.4 million Afghans by the end of next year. Many of them had fled when the Taliban were overthrown. The United Nations criticise the decision but Pakistan fears Islamic extremism among the “guests’ in its midst.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The question of Afghan refugees, who fled their homeland during the Soviet invasion and whose plight got worse during the overthrow of the Taliban regime, is becoming an important diplomatic issue. The United Nations has criticises Pakistan for its plan to repatriate 2.4 million Afghan refugees, saying the strategy could fuel the Islamic insurgency. In their response Pakistani officials said they know the risk and for that reason do not want to deal with these people anymore.

Pakistan announced the schedule last year, largely in response to international criticism against the Musharraf administration for sheltering Islamic terrorists on its territory.

The repatriations are meant to be voluntary, but the vast majority of refugees who have registered in Pakistan say they do not want to return to Afghanistan. They lack land to settle on and fear fighting between Taliban militants and NATO and Afghan government forces.

Pakistan seems unwilling to budge on the issue though.

“We will give it our best shot,” said Imran Zeb Khan, Pakistan's commissioner for Afghan refugees.

He appealed to Afghanistan to provide land and to the international community to fund development work for returning refugees.

“People are not commodities,” said Kilian Kleinschmidt, assistant representative in Pakistan for the UN refugee agency. “The strategy based on the policy that all the Afghans should be repatriated by next year needs to be revised and reviewed.”

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