ISLAMABAD: The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Pakistan circulated a notification issued by the administration in Islamabad on Tuesday, saying the validity of the identity documents specifically designed for Afghan refugees had been extended until the end of the year.
The announcement comes at a time when Pakistan has launched a crackdown against unregistered foreigners, most of them Afghans, after giving them a brief deadline last month to voluntarily return to their countries.
The Pakistani authorities cited security reasons for its decision amid a fresh wave of suicide bombings in different parts of the country, saying that Afghan nationals carried out over a dozen of these attacks since the beginning of the year.
According to official estimates, there are nearly 1.7 million undocumented Afghan nationals in the country. However, the government’s deportation drive has also triggered uncertainty among registered refugees, many of whom have said that they have been harassed by the police in recent weeks.
According to the latest statistics compiled by the home department of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 211,969 Afghan nationals had returned to their country by crossing Torkham border alone by November 14.
Last week, Pakistani officials said they would initiate the process of returning these refugees once all the undocumented foreigners were sent back to their countries.
“Important announcement for Afghan @Refugees,” the UNHCR proclaimed from its official account on X. “Proof of Registration (PoR) cards are extended until 31 December 2023.”
It shared a relevant notification brought out by Pakistan’s Ministry of States & Frontier Region on November 10 with the post.
“In pursuance of the approval of the Federal Cabinet conveyed vide Cabinet Division’s Memorandum No. 941(S)/2023-Cab dated 10th November, 2023, Government of Pakistan is pleased to extend the validity of the Proof of Registration (PoR) Cards issued to the registered Afghan Refugees by NADRA, till 31st December, 2023,” the notification said.
The PoR cards entitle Afghan refugees to legally remain in the country. Issued by the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), they are crucial for the social and economic integration of refugees, allowing them to move freely for work, education, and other personal reasons.
Pakistan started admitting large numbers of Afghan refugees after the beginning of the Soviet-Afghan war in 1979. According to the UNHCR, their number crossed more than four million by the end of 2001.
A recent exodus of Afghan nationals began after the Taliban swept back to power in Kabul, following the withdrawal of US-led international forces from the war-battered country in August 2021.