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Agreement on Repatriation of Afghan Refugees Signed - 2003-03-27

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United Nations signed an agreement last week in Brussels to repatriate an estimated two million Afghan refugees who remain in Pakistan. Most of them fled their homes because of 23 years of war and a prolonged drought in Afghanistan that began in 1998.

The agreement has for the first time established a formal process for resolving the 23-year-old Afghan refugee problem in Pakistan. It is designed to support a gradual organized return of at least 600,000 Afghan refugees to their homes in each of the next three years.

Pakistani minister for refugees, Aftab Sherpao, discussed details of the agreement Thursday in Islamabad. He says that the repatriation program is voluntary, and will mainly be assisted by the U.N. agency for refugees.

"The voluntary repatriation program shall assist Afghan citizens to return to their final destination in Afghanistan in safety, freedom and with dignity," he said. "The transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan shall be responsible for the safety and security of the returnees once within the territory of Afghanistan."

Mr. Sherpao says that a six-member commission will review annual progress of the repatriation program. He says the success of this process will largely depend on the economic conditions in Afghanistan. At the end of this program, Mr. Sherpao says, a screening will take place to determine whether the remaining Afghan population is still in need of protection and continued refugee status.

The Pakistani minister says that economic migrants among the Afghans will face Pakistan's normal immigration laws after three years.

Security and economic conditions have improved in Afghanistan since a U.S.-led anti-terrorism force removed the Taleban from power more than a year ago. Pakistani minister Sherpao says that this has encouraged more than 1.5 million Afghan refugees to return home under a U.N.-sponsored voluntary repatriation program.