World

Pakistan resumes repatriating Afghan refugees

Pakistan today resumed its mass repatriation of Afghan refugees despite past accusations of coercion in the supposedly voluntary UN programme to return hundreds of thousands to a war-torn nation.

The operation, which saw 380,000 registered refugees sent back from Pakistan in 2016, was halted in December for a routine winter break.

"The UNHCR voluntary repatriation programme for registered Afghan refugees resumed today," Duniya Aslam Khan, a spokeswoman for the refugee aid body, told AFP.

The UN had cut its cash grant for returnees from USD 400 to USD 200, she confirmed, citing "financial constraints facing humanitarian operations worldwide".

The grant was doubled in 2016 and became a factor in the surge of returnees across the border to Afghanistan after July last year, the UN has said.

But fears of a crackdown by Pakistan on refugees, many of whom left Afghanistan decades ago, also contributed.

Human Rights Watch in a scathing report in February accused Pakistan of coercion, threats and abuse in the mass repatriation, and the UN of complicity.

The report said a combination of insecure legal status, the threat of deportation during winter and police abuses -- including extortion, arbitrary detention and night raids -- had left the Afghan refugees with no choice but to leave.

It also accused UNHCR of effectively encouraging the exodus by doubling the cash grant, and said the UN body should end the "fiction" that the returns are voluntary.

The UN has previously rejected the criticism.

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