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Pakistan Issues Identity Cards to More Than a Million Afghan Refugees

Afghan refugee schoolchildren attend a class at a makeshift school on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Dec. 29, 2021.
Afghan refugee schoolchildren attend a class at a makeshift school on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Dec. 29, 2021.

Pakistan has concluded a months-long campaign to register Afghan refugees and issue them identity cards that will protect and safeguard their interests.

The government-run campaign, supported by the U.N. refugee agency, began in mid-April. The registration drive has updated the data of some 1.4 million Afghan refugees. This is the first large-scale effort to verify the status of refugees in Pakistan in the last 10 years.

UNHCR spokesman, Babar Baloch says the refugees are given so-called smart identity cards that legitimize their status and facilitate their access to humanitarian aid and other benefits.

“The new identity cards are an essential protection tool for Afghan refugees and give them the faster and safer access to health and education facilities and to financial services as well," Baloch said. "This drive also provided an opportunity for Afghan refugees to flag any specific protection needs for vulnerabilities.”

The UNHCR reports more than 300,000 Afghans have fled to Pakistan since the Taliban took over their country in August. Their situation is precarious as most have entered the country illegally and may be liable for deportation.

The United Nations warns Afghanistan is becoming one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. It notes 24.4 million people, more than half of the population, need life-saving humanitarian assistance. It says more than 9 million Afghans are displaced within the country, with little prospect of returning soon to the homes they fled.

Baloch says more than 40 verification sites were set up across Pakistan during the registration drive last year. He says mobile registration vans sought out Afghan refugees living in remote areas.

He says a mass information campaign also was carried out to explain the purpose of the campaign to Afghan refugees. He says this effort has paid off with large numbers participating.

“Among them, there were 200,000 children under the age of five who were registered by their refugee parents," Baloch said. "More than 700,000 new smart identity cards have also been issued to date. The remaining cards will be printed and distributed in early 2022. These cards are valid until 30th of June 2023.”

Baloch says the campaign is part of a wider effort to assist and protect Afghan refugees. Gathering more detailed information about the refugees, he says will enable the government and aid agencies to better tailor assistance to them.

In addition, he says it will facilitate support for those refugees who decide to return home, when conditions in Afghanistan allow.