Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has offered citizenship to Afghan refugees who were born and raised in his country, a move that the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says could benefit at least half a million Afghans.
Khan said Sunday in Karachi that his government would grant nationality to all Pakistan-born refugees of Afghan and Bangladeshi origins, according to local broadcaster Geo TV.
It was not yet clear whether the parents of Afghans born in Pakistan would also be granted citizenship. Under the Pakistan Citizenship Act of 1951, all individuals born in Pakistan are entitled to citizenship. Implementation of the law has been lax due to political pressure from Pakistani residents who fear Afghans will take their jobs.
The UNHCR praised the announcement.
‘We welcome the statement and will continue to work closely with the government,’ said Qaiser Khan Afridi, a spokesman for the UNHCR, told dpa on Monday.
The UNHCR is currently undertaking the volunteer repatriation of around 1.4 million Afghans, most of them living in Pakistan since their country was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979. Afridi said that 64 per cent of the registered Afghan refugees are below the age of 24.
According to government estimates, 2.7 million Afghans live in Pakistan.
Afghan refugees in Pakistan have faced an uncertain future since the government decided to expel all of them by the end of January. The deadline was initially extended until March, and then to September 30.
The Afghan authorities and the UNHCR have expressed reservations about the settlement of refugees in the war-hit regions.
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