UN refugee chief meets Pakistan’s premier to discuss Afghan refugees following clampdown – Voice of America – VOA News

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The head of the U.N. refugee agency met the Pakistani prime minister Tuesday to discuss the situation of Afghan refugees living in uncertainty since Islamabad began a persistent anti-migrant crackdown last year.

Pakistan has long hosted an estimated 1.7 million Afghans, most of whom fled during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation. More than half a million others escaped Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in 2021, with thousands waiting in Pakistan for resettlement in the United States and elsewhere. Since the widely criticized clampdown started in November, an estimated 600,000 Afghans have returned home.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, who arrived in Pakistan on Sunday, spent two days meeting Afghan refugees. He posted on social media platform X: “I spent time with Afghan refugees whose resourcefulness is testimony to their strength — and to Pakistan’s long hospitality.” Grandi added that his visit aimed to “discuss how we can best support both amidst growing challenges.”

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif told the UN refugee agency head that Afghan refugees were treated with “exemplary respect and dignity” despite facing multiple challenges, according to a statement released by his office Tuesday. Sharif also urged the international community to “recognize the burden being shouldered by Pakistan while hosting such a large refugee population and demonstrate collective responsibility.”

The prime minister also asked for help from UNHCR to repatriate the refugees in “a safe and dignified” manner.

Also on Tuesday, Grandi met with Asif Durrani, the country’s special representative for Afghanistan. Durrani wrote on X that the two sides “expressed readiness to find a durable solution to the Afghan refugee problem, including their repatriation”.

Pakistan had previously said the crackdown targeted those without valid documents regardless of nationality.

U.N. agencies have decried the forced expulsion of Afghans from Pakistan, saying it could lead to severe human rights violations — including the separation of families and deportation of minors. Although Pakistan had been routinely deporting Afghans who came here without valid documents in recent years, the ongoing crackdown is unprecedented in scale.

Since the crackdown, the neighboring Taliban-led government said it set up a commission to deal with repatriated nationals and has criticized Islamabad’s actions.

Pakistan has also faced a surge in militant attacks on security forces and civilians alike, mostly blamed on Pakistani Taliban — a separate militant group but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban — straining the ties between the two countries.

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