ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday extended the stay for Afghan refugees in his country, pushing back a previously announced deadline by three months, a government statement said.
The decision, which came at a Cabinet meeting in the capital, Islamabad, will enable registered Afghan refugees to stay here until the end of March.
Pakistan is currently hosting at least 1.5 million refugees. An additional 1 million unregistered Afghans have been staying in many parts of Pakistan since 1980s, when they escaped the violence at home.
The government's announcement came amid reports that Pakistani authorities have been forcing Afghans to go back home even before the expiration of the previous, Dec. 31 deadline.
The statement quoted Sharif as saying "Afghans are our brothers and very dear to us. Adequate and concrete steps will be ensured for facilitation of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan."
Sharif also asked Pakistani officials to meet with representatives of Afghan refugees to address their concerns.
"Afghan refugees living in Pakistan ... are our guests and their return plans would be decided in a way that does not create any negative impression in the minds of people living on both sides of the border," the Pakistani leader was quoted as telling the Cabinet.
Kabul had initially wanted Islamabad to extend their refugees' stay until the end of December next year.
Friday's decision comes just ahead of the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or "Feast of Sacrifice," during which Muslims slaughter sheep, cattle and other livestock, and give part of the meat to the poor. Afghan refugees living in Pakistan celebrate the holiday at camps or with relatives who live across the country.