MOSCOW (Sputnik) — According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released in February, the number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan had decreased from 2.5 million at the end of 2015 to 1.9 million at the end of the following year as a result of a campaign of intimidation and police extortion launched by Islamabad during the latter half of 2016.
"We have hosted Afghan refugees for almost 40 years. If our intention ever was to throw them out, we would have done that a long time ago. We have always maintained that the Afghan refugees need to go back with dignity, and voluntarily. The UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] responded to the HRW report, the refugees were extensively interviewed by the media. There was no evidence found that support allegations they had been thrown out of their places of residence. Besides, we once again extended the deadline for the return till 31 December of 2017," Aslam said.
She also stressed that Kabul has so far failed to fully implement its obligations to support returnees and develop infrastructure in local communities to foster the sustainable reintegration of refugees.
"When the present Afghan government assumed office, Afghan President Ashraf Gani listed in his priorities, publicly and bilaterally with us, the return of Afghan refugees to their homes. Subsequently, we didn’t see much movement on that front. There was no focus on conditions that should have been created for their return," she said.
According to Aslam, there are still close to 3 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.
Afghanistan is in a state of political and social turmoil, with government forces fighting the continuing Taliban insurgency. The instability has persisted in the country since the 2001 US-led invasion to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
As a result of this instability, many Afghans have left the country, with nearly 2.6 million Afghan nationals living in over 70 countries across the world, mostly in Iran and Pakistan. Since 2002, nearly 5.8 million Afghans have repatriated, with 4.8 million returns being facilitated by the UNHCR.