Roadblocks leave hundreds of Afghan refugees stranded in Pakistan

Hundreds of Afghan refugees set to leave Peshawar in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to return to their homeland have been left stranded after local tribal disputes shut down a key road between the two countries, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

Over 360 Afghan families that had been processed for repatriation from Peshawar on Monday were unable to leave due to the roadblock along the Peshawar-Torkham highway.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has temporarily suspended its voluntary repatriation operation via Peshawar in order to prevent more families from being stranded.

UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva that assisted returns will start again once the road is cleared.

The blockage has also meant that more time will be needed to repatriate those Afghans living in the Jalozai refugee camp in NWFP. The deadline to close that camp was today.

“UNHCR acknowledges that Jalozai must be closed as previously agreed and that its residents must cooperate by leaving on time,” said Mr. Redmond. “Nonetheless, we hope the Pakistani government can give them a little more time in view of the current impasse on the Peshawar-Torkham road.”

More than 70,000 Afghans living there have been given the options of voluntary repatriation to Afghanistan or relocation to an existing refugee village in Pakistan.

Over 3,000 have repatriated in recent weeks, while more than 30 families have asked to be relocated to Kot Chandna refugee village in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

“The authorities have assured us that houses that are still occupied will not be demolished, and that basic services such as food, water and electricity will keep running until the last inhabitant leaves,” Mr. Redmond said.

“We have also urged the authorities to be more proactive on relocating Afghans who cannot return to Afghanistan,” he added.

Meanwhile, assisted returns are unaffected and continue in south-western Pakistan through UNHCR’s Baleli Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Balochistan.