GENEVA, NOVEMBER 21 — Participants in virtual high-level consultations organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have praised the generosity of Pakistan and Iran in hosting millions of Afghan refugees for more than four decades, and hoped for the success of the ongoing peace negotiations to enable them to return to their homeland.
The event was held ahead of the two-day Afghanistan conference starting on November 23, and is co-hosted with Finland, Afghanistan and the United Nations (UN) Aid Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA).
The President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, was one of 175 leading participants who discussed the issues facing refugees in their return and reintegration into their homeland. His participation and the recent visit to Prime Minister Imran Khan in Kabul have heightened Pakistan’s role as a leading refugee country and a key player in the region, diplomats said.
At the start of the discussion, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his short video remarks that the intra-Afghan negotiations were a ‘unique opportunity’ and encouraged all parties to move towards stability and peace.
President Alvi welcomes the peace talks and the intra-Afghan dialogue as a harbinger of peace paving the way for the return of refugees. The Afghans, he said, must decide for themselves their future.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the return of the refugees should be well planned and organized. “If the process of returnees is overlooked or implemented in a bad way, it can lead to further destabilization,” he said, adding: “We must avoid bad strategies.”
President Ghani outlined his government’s efforts to encourage economic growth in the country through participatory methods and innovation. The peace process has highlighted the need for the return of Afghan refugees, and they are contributing to the reconstruction efforts. He called on the international community to provide consistent support to Afghanistan.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, United States (US) Special Representative for Reconciliation in Afghanistan, emphasized in his video statement the need to achieve the achievements of the past twenty years.
According to him, the US has worked hard with neighboring countries to bring peace to Afghanistan. He said inter-Afghan dialogue had made progress in recent days.
Khalilzad called for a reduction in the level of violence and the achievement of a final ceasefire, and reiterated US support for the Afghan people.
Gareth Bayley, the Special Representative of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for Afghanistan and Pakistan, paid tribute to Pakistan and Iran, the main hosts to Afghan refugees. He said the refugees should return voluntarily.
Bayley said there was a strong political will for peace in Afghanistan, which was confirmed on Thursday by Prime Minister Imran Khan and Afghan President Ghani.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, who was the largest host, praised the hospitality of the host countries, particularly the largest host Pakistan and Iran. He thanked the President of Pakistan for participating in the consultations.
He said he was concerned about the recent increase in violence in Afghanistan, and he hoped that peace talks would continue to make progress.
Other speakers also spoke about their desire to restore peace in Afghanistan so that refugees can return in honor and dignity.