The Government of Pakistan continues to host more than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees and a similar number of Afghan nationals with a different status. In addition to upholding a stable protection environment, in 2020 the Government launched a new visa regime that enables documented and regulated entry and stay for Afghan nationals in Pakistan.
Some 69% of registered Afghan refugees live in urban and rural areas alongside their Pakistani host communities, with the Government of Pakistan allowing access to local services including in the sectors of health and education – despite the strain on available resources and infrastructure. The document renewal & information verification exercise (DRIVE) that will take place in 2021 will verify the 1.4 million refugees and provide them with new identity documentation in the form of a biometric Smartcard issued by the Government of Pakistan. It will provide a critical opportunity to update and expand the PoR cardholder dataset, allowing for more effective planning and response around refugee protection, assistance and solutions, including voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan. The obtained data will be critical in informing targeted humanitarian-development-peace investments in the priority areas of return and reintegration (PARRs) in Afghanistan.
Due to the prevailing uncertainty surrounding the peace talks, escalating violence and lack of access to basic services and livelihoods in Afghanistan, coupled with the impact of the COVID-19-related restrictions on movement, 2020 saw the lowest number of voluntary returns since 2002.
Within the framework of the support platform for the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR), UNHCR will continue its efforts to reach out to donors, the private sector and development actors, generating multi-year funding opportunities.
COVID-19 pandemic had a serious impact on the livelihoods of refugees who are mostly daily wage earners. Children were affected by school closures, and some health facilities were temporarily closed to non-COVID-19 patients. In 2020, UNHCR’s rapid response included the implementation of emergency cash assistance to support the most vulnerable refugee families, replicating the Government’s emergency cash assistance for Pakistani citizens. In public hospitals, refugees received equal treatment as nationals, while UNHCR provided mobile health units for remote refugee villages, and improved water and sanitation in health facilities and schools. UNHCR’s emergency interventions in response to the pandemic have completed the existing programs in health, education and livelihoods and will be consolidated and built upon during 2021
In line with the objectives of the regional Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees, UNHCR will continue facilitating voluntary repatriation, as the preferred durable solution for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
UNHCR will also continue its support to the Government in the implementation of their comprehensive policy concerning Afghan refugees.
In 2021, UNHCR in Pakistan will focus on:
- Implementing the document renewal & information verification exercise (DRIVE);
- Investing in the public health and education sectors, while supporting livelihoods and youth empowerment through the refugee affected and hosting areas (RAHA) program that supports the inclusion of refugees in public service delivery systems, pending the conditions that provide for their safe and voluntary return to Afghanistan.
- Enhancing its community-based protection activities, with particular attention on assisting persons at heightened risk; as well as efforts to prevent and combat gender-based violence.
- Advocating for the documentation of stateless persons and accession to the statelessness conventions.