Screening of Afghan refugees in Pakistan begins
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Joint teams from the United Nations refugee agency and the Pakistan government began preliminary work on Monday to screen up to 180,000 Afghan refugees languishing in squalid camps in northwestern Pakistan.
"The pre-screening is meant to collect basic information about every family living at the camp," said Greg Lyndon, a team leader for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at Jallozai camp, home to around 70,000 recently arrived Afghans.
The screening comes under a landmark agreement signed between the UNHCR and Islamabad last week, after months of wrangling over the status of the Afghans fleeing drought and long conflict.
During the initial stages families in Jallozai and nearby Nasir Bagh camps outside Peshawar will be registered and informed of their choices.
Those eventually determined to be refugees will receive international assistance and protection and be permitted to stay in Pakistan, while those screened out will be returned to Afghanistan.
Under the full screening, due to start in two to three weeks, detailed interviews will be conducted with family heads.
The UNHCR's Lyndon said 266 family heads in Jallozai were called for pre-screening on Monday. But people said whatever happened they could not return to Afghanistan.
"I've no intention to go back to my village as it is right on the front line," said Tajun Nisa, a mother of seven whose husband was paralysed several years ago.
She said her family left their village in Khawajaghar district of the northern Takhar province after homes were damaged seven months ago by fighters from both the ruling Taliban and the opposition Northern Alliance.
"If you throw people from Takhar back across (the Afghan) border 20 times, they would always come back," said Nisa, adding life in the area was impossible.
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