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Int'l Conf. on Refugees begins in Islamabad

ISLAMABAD, Feb 17 (KUNA) -- An International Conference to mark 40 years of Afghan Refugees' Presence in Pakistan kicked off here Monday.
The Conference titled "40 years of Afghan Refugees Presence in Pakistan: A New Partnership for Solidarity" is being organized jointly by the Government of Pakistan in collaboration with UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
While addressing the two-day summit, Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan said that they have extended the best ever support to the Afghan peace process.
He noted that there is a need for peace in Afghanistan for development and prosperity of internally displaced people, adding that development is only possible through trade and friendly relations, which will also help to improve relations with Central Asian states.
Despite economic challenges, the host Pakistan kept "wonderful" relations with Afghan refugees, Khan pointed out. Generosity has nothing to do with the bank balance, he noted.
On the issue of Islamophobia, Khan said Islamophobia came after 9/11 because terrorism and Islam were equated, which led to suffering of refugees worldwide, adding that every society and religion has every type of people.
On the occasion, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres underlined the need for renewed commitment to peace in Afghanistan for successful repatriation of Afghan refugees.
On the Afghan issue, he said that solution lies in Afghanistan, adding they are here to serve Afghan people who deserve peace, stability and repatriation with safety and dignity.
He brought up that Pakistan is still the second largest country in hosting refugees, saying that despite many challenges; Pakistan set a good example.
Time has come for the international community to act and deliver with responsibility sharing, he pointed out. Refugees is a big challenge, but this conference shows commitment to solve the issue, he underscored.
On his part, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Pakistan is pursuing a policy of returning Afghan refugees with dignity, safety and honor, underlining that harmony and stability is indispensable and Pakistan would continue supporting the Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process.
Qureshi said every refugee is hoping that peace will restore leading to repatriation, noting that Pakistan hosted five million Afghan refugees and today three million registered, while unregistered Afghan refugees are residing in Pakistan.
He brought up that Pak-Afghan relations have provided impetus to host millions of Afghan refugees, urging the world to join hands with Pakistan to provide basic needs to Afghan refugees and enable them to live a dignified life.
International cooperation is required more than ever before, where caring should be a shared responsibility, in which Afghan refugees are expecting the world to rebuild their country after restoration of peace there, he highlighted.
In turn, Afghan Second Vice President Sarwar Danish thanked Pakistan on the occasion for hosting Afghan refugees for 40 years, saying that Pakistan played the role of a brotherly country by hosting millions of Afghan refugees.
He said that Pakistan and Iran opening their doors for Afghan refugees is "unforgettable," underscoring that his government wants repatriation of Afghan refugees; however, for that, end of the war is imperative.
Addressing the conference, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi pointed out that for the last 40 years, the people of Pakistan have stood with Afghan neighbors.
He admired Pakistan's hosting of refugees, saying that generosity does not come without cost, but it has impact on local economy, infrastructure and security, admitting that international support to Afghan refugees remained insufficient and appealed to donors to lend support for development in Afghanistan.
The international conference on refugees came at a time when the US and Afghan Taliban held several sessions of peace negotiations to end the 18-year long war in Afghanistan, led by US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha, Qatar.
Earlier last month, Taliban rebels agreed on reduction in its "military operations" in Afghanistan until signing the peace agreement with the US, which Taliban were optimistic that it could have been signed by the end of last month. (end) sbk.lr