Over 343,100 Afghans repatriated from Pakistan during the year with UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assistance, and an unknown number spontaneously. Pakistan continued to host an estimated 1.2 million Afghan refugees in camps, and an unknown number outside of camps – there has been no registration or census of Afghans in over a decade – as well as some 17,700 refugees of other nationalities at year's end. The non-Afghan refugees in Pakistan included about 17,000 refugees from Kashmir, and 651 UNHCR recognized refugees mostly from Somalia (309), Iraq (123) and Iran (112). At the end of the year, UNHCR reported that resettlement countries had accepted 320 persons, mostly Afghans, for resettlement but that they had not yet departed Pakistan.

Some 12,500 Pakistanis sought asylum in other countries during the year.


Although less than the estimated 1.8 million who returned in 2002, large numbers of Afghans returned to Afghanistan, including some 343,100 with UNHCR assistance. UNHCR suspended repatriations following the shooting of a staff member in Afghanistan in November, but planned to re-start in March. Repatriation is generally very slow in the winter months so the suspension was not expected to impact greatly on returns.

The governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement in March that expressly acknowledges that all repatriation must be voluntary. The agreement, which lasts until 2005, also provides for a screening of refugees at that time but does not specify the process.

Although the Tripartite agreement was effective in preventing large scale forced return and harassment, there were cases of both last year. UNHCR sub-office in Quetta reported that Pakistan deported 437 Afghans. Although Pakistan arrested a number of Afghans under the Foreigners Act, they released many after UNHCR and the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) intervened. Other NGOs noted that police harassed Afghans who were working illegally seeking bribes.

Chaman Waiting Area

In July, Pakistan and UNHCR closed the Chaman camp waiting area, which fleeing Afghan refugees denied entry to Pakistan had formed in 2002. From its inception, both Pakistani and Afghan authorities limited assistance to the inhospitable, barren area, according to Médecins sans Frontières. The Pakistani authorities considered the area a security risk.

In May 2003, the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to re-locate the residents. Several Afghans returned to Zhare Dasht, a camp for internally displaced in Afghanistan near Kandahar, some went to Mohamed Khalil camp outside Baluchistan in Pakistan, and others went to their original homes inside Afghanistan. Still others relocated to Spin Boldak, a displaced person's settlement just across the border in Afghanistan.

Kacha Garhi

The Pakistani government extended a reprieve concerning the closure of this refugee village, located outside of Peshawar. Originally scheduled to close in March 2003, the government extended the deadline to March 2004. The village is home to around 75,000 persons, many who have lived there since the 1980s. Pakistan has tolerated the makeshift refugee village, consisting of 700 shops, 84 mosques as well as schools and hospitals, but had allocated the land for development, and the land is owned by the military.


Pakistan and India entered into a historic ceasefire agreement in November and agreed to hold talks in February 2004 to discuss Kashmir among other issues.

Pakistan continued to host some 17,000 refugees from Indian controlled Kashmir, some of who have been in Pakistan since 1947. The refugees live in 17 camps in the region of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir known as Azad and Jammu Kashmir, where the local authorities assist them.

In addition to the refugees, an estimated 2,000 Kashmiris have been internally displaced in Pakistan since the late 1990s; a majority of who live in one of two camps for displaced people in Azad and Jammu Kashmir. The remainder lives in a makeshift camp in the Northern Territories. Outside of these settlements, an unknown number of other Kashmiris are also internally displaced, but because they live with relatives and friends, they are not readily identifiable – although some press reports indicate the number is as high as 1.5 million. The Pakistani government provides short-term life saving assistance, but it is sporadic and insufficient. Continued shelling across the line of control during 2003 until the November ceasefire, and landmines which hampered cultivation and other livelihoods, have prevented substantial return.

Other Refugees

In May, the government granted non-Afghan refugees the right to work. The National Alien's Registration Authority (NARA) within the government of Pakistan, and UNHCR signed an agreement whereby NARA would register all non-Afghan asylum seekers recognized as persons of concern by UNHCR. NARA will then issue work permits to individuals aged 18-55 whose names UNHCR forwards to their offices. UNHCR will pay the cost of registration (Rs 250=$4.40) and processing of work permits (Rs 2500=$44).


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