The federal cabinet on Wednesday granted a 30-day extension in the legal stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. This is the sixth extension given to the refugees by the government.
Nearly 1.4 million registered Afghans had lost their refugee status in Pakistan on Sunday after their Proof of Registration (PoR) cards expired on December 31.
The Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (Safron) had suggested to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat that the refugees' stay should be extended until December 2018.
However, a meeting of the cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in Islamabad "agreed to grant only 30 days extension for PoR" card holders, read a press release issued after the meeting.
After a detailed discussion on the proposal to extend the stay of Afghan refugees, the cabinet decided that the issue of early repatriation of the refugees will be raised with UNHCR and the international community.
"Pakistan’s economy has carried the burden of hosting Afghan refugees since long and in the present circumstances cannot sustain it further," said the statement after the meeting.
Afghan refugees have already availed extension in their stay five times. The government had introduced PoR card system for the registered refugees to legalise their stay and protect them from harassment at the hands of law enforcement agencies. The card system was introduced with the assistance of UNHCR in 2009.
The government has commitments with UNHCR and Afghan government that there would be no forced return of refugees despite the expiry of PoR cards and would facilitate their return through the UN-sponsored voluntary repatriation programme.
Cabinet briefed on Trump remarks
At the outset of the meeting, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif briefed the cabinet regarding the allegations levelled by US President Donald Trump against Pakistan in a tweet, and the discussion held during a meeting of the National Security Committee on Tuesday.
The cabinet unanimously endorsed NSC's stance at the end of the meeting. It observed that Trump's statements are "detrimental to the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and USA".
"Pakistan has rendered huge sacrifices, both in terms of loss of precious human lives and substantial damage to the economy."