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|2019 year-end results|
|54,900||people were assisted through PoR card modification centres|
|52,200||primary school children had access to primary schools in refugee villages with the support of UNHCR|
|32,100||people received legal assistance through UNHCR’s advice and legal aid (ALAC) centers|
|6,200||Afghan refugees voluntarily repatriated to Afghanistan with UNHCR’s assistance|
|2,000||trainees received support from UNHCR to attend one of the Government’s vocational skills training institutes|
|400||Afghan refugee students benefitted from a DAFI scholarship|
|2020 planning figures|
|54,000||primary school aged children will be enrolled in primary education|
|11,730||people of concern will benefit from vocational/technical skills training in enrolling in formal national institutions for certified skills training|
|30||health facilities will be equipped, constructed or rehabilitated|
People of Concern
Operational contextPakistan is host to the largest refugee population under UNHCR’s mandate in Asia, and the second largest in the world. The Government continued to provide a stable protection environment and, in 2019, maintained its comprehensive policy on voluntary repatriation and management of Afghan refugees – advancing inclusive policies towards Afghan refugees, notably in access to health, education and livelihoods. The Government extended the validity of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards for Afghan refugees until June 2020 and enabled refugees to open bank accounts, allowing for greater economic inclusion.
Pakistan was one of the five co-conveners of the first Global Refugee Forum in December 2019. UNHCR worked closely with the Government in preparation for an international conference marking four decades of the protracted Afghan refugee situation, hosted by Pakistan, to take place in early 2020.
With some 6,200 refugees returning to Afghanistan in 2019, voluntary repatriation was at a historical low. The Government of Pakistan, along with the Governments of the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan and Iran and UNHCR, launched a support platform for the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees to facilitate more equitable burden- and responsibility-sharing by the international community, in line with the Global Compact on Refugees. In Pakistan, the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) initiative remained the main platform for securing protection space, delivering vital assistance and promoting social cohesion with host communities.
Population trendsAt end of 2019, more than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees (with PoR cards) remained in Pakistan; 69% of whom lived in urban and peri-urban areas, while the remaining refugees resided in 54 refugee villages. Some 54% of all refugees were male, 46% were female and 48% were children.
In 2019, UNHCR facilitated the voluntary repatriation of some 6,200 individuals. Among the reasons for the low rate of voluntary repatriation were the deteriorating security situation, uncertain outcomes of complex political transitions and peace negotiations, as well as limited absorption capacity in Afghanistan.
- Community-based protection interventions focused on greater direct outreach to refugee communities, facilitating access to services and strengthening capacities of communities to identify and address the needs of people with specific needs. UNHCR identified and trained over 1,800 refugee outreach volunteers who carried out nearly 1,900 field visits, initiated close to 90 small-scale community initiatives, and supported the referral of vulnerable individuals to service providers. More than 250 community committees were established to strengthen community resilience and capacity building at the grass-roots level.
- Through the implementation of projects under the RAHA initiative, UNHCR continued to support the enrolment of refugee children in public schools, as well as Afghan refugees’ access to national health facilities, vocational skills training, livelihoods, water and sanitation, and infrastructure. In 2019, 22 RAHA projects benefitted 280,000 Afghan refugees and members of host communities.
Unmet needsThe Government provided access for refugees to national public services (health and education) despite significant challenges, including limited capacity and varied quality of services. However, insufficient international funding has placed an additional strain on the Government and its ability to sustain this inclusive environment for Afghan refugees.
Pakistan is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, nor has it enacted any specialized law to address refugee issues, even though it hosts one of the world’s largest refugee populations. In this context, UNHCR advocated for the adoption of national refugee legislation, which would support to a comprehensive, predictable and sustainable approach to refugee and migration management issues in Pakistan. A draft national refugee law was developed in 2013 and remained pending official comments by various ministries.
Operational EnvironmentEvolving relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the sub-regional and internal security challenges continue to define the complex operational environment in Pakistan, with a possibility of impacting UNHCR’s operations, protection space and availability of sustainable solutions for Afghan refugees.
Following the elections in July 2018, the new government has shown intentions of solving refugees and immigrants’ issues in accordance with international humanitarian laws within the framework of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR).
In line with the Comprehensive Policy on Voluntary Repatriation and Management of Afghan Nationals, approved by the Federal Cabinet in 2017, the Government of Pakistan registered close to 880,000 undocumented Afghans and UNHCR will continue supporting the Government in the implementation of other aspects of the Comprehensive Policy, including i) continued extension of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards; ii) advocacy for the enactment of the national refugee law and iii) implementation of a flexible visa regime for PoR card holders who will be able to obtain Afghan passports and Pakistani visas (business, student, inter-marriage, skilled and unskilled labour) in Pakistan. These new policies could effectively change the landscape of refugee protection and migration management in Pakistan and in the sub-region in the years to come.
In 2019, UNHCR will work with the Government of Pakistan to ensure that this flexible visa regime includes necessary protection safeguards, however the roll-out of the initiative will depend on the ability of the Government of Afghanistan to start issuing Afghan passports in Pakistan.
Key PrioritiesIn 2019, UNHCR will focus on:
- Facilitating the return, in close coordination with the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, of a number of Afghans who opt for voluntary return, despite the volatility and unpredictability in the sub-region combined with deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan;
- Carrying out core mandate activities and promoting the legal stay of refugees into and beyond 2019 for their continued protection in the country. Nine Advice and Legal Aid Centres will continue to provide free legal assistance, legal interventions and advocacy, supported by a network of pro-bono lawyers;
- Pursuing its community-based protection and urban outreach strategy, with the objective to empower Afghan refugees and strengthen their resilience capacity, enabling them to minimize their exposure to protection risks.
- Finding funding for and developing projects implemented under the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) initiative, which play a major role in the social cohesion between refugees and the Pakistani communities.