BBC News – 2007-08-31 10:09:30
(August 31, 2007) — Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s largest camp have been given another six months to relocate, local media reports say.
The Jalozai camp, near Peshawar city, was planned for closure on Friday but the refugees have been given an unofficial extension, say journalists.
The UN refugee agency earlier appealed to Pakistan to postpone the closure, warning that “tens of thousands” of Afghans were being pressured to leave.
Pakistan’s government has not yet commented on the reports.
But it has said that the “voluntary repatriation” of the refugees will continue and that the camp in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) must be closed.
Local journalists say the refugees will have to re-locate to three designated camps in six months.
Till a few months ago, there were 109,000 refugees in Jalozai. Of these, 20,000 have left for Afghanistan and some have moved to other camps. But most of the remaining are reluctant to leave.
The Pakistani government says that some of the camps – mostly inhabited by people who have fled decades of fighting in Afghanistan – have been used as a safe haven by Taleban and al-Qaeda militants.
But the UN said that refugees in Jalozai had been given a “very short deadline” to leave, and that it would be “impossible to manage a safe, voluntary and sustainable repatriation operation”.
The agency has warned that camp closures late in the year result in “secondary internal displacement” with returnee families living in inadequate and makeshift shelters over the winter.
The UN says that the closure of Jalozai should be suspended until 2008 to permit a more “dignified and controlled conclusion to the process”.
Correspondents say many refugees do not want to return because they do not have land, shelter or jobs in Afghanistan.
Some have lived all their lives in Pakistan.
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