PESHAWAR - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi on Saturday appreciated the government of Pakistan for hosting millions of Afghan refugees for almost four decades and said their voluntary repatriation would continue.
He observed the repatriation process during his visit to the UNHCR Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Azakhel in Nowshera district and met Afghan families.
Filippo Grandi was accompanied by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock and film star Mahira Khan.
He said that during his visit to Pakistan he met Prime Minister Imran Khan who assured him that the Afghan refugees would not be forced to leave Pakistan and would be facilitated during their stay.
He said that some 1.4 million Afghans were registered as refugees in Pakistan and for their voluntary repatriation two centres had been established in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
The UNHCR chief also visited the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital in Peshawar where he commended the hospital’s charitable work.
He said that providing free treatment to underprivileged cancer patients was a noble act.
“Hospitals like this are a symbol of hope for thousands of cancer patients who have little resources,” Filippo Grandi said.
The UN refugee agency has provided high-tech machines worth Rs710 million (USD 6.2 million) for Peshawar’s Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital to support free treatment to cancer patients, including Afghan refugees.
The radiotherapy machines will be fully operational by the end of this year.
Radiotherapy uses high-energy radiation to break down cancer cells and treat tumours in the body.
UNHCR will also impart training to the technicians to operate the equipment effectively. The new cancer equipment will provide some 30,000 treatment sessions to both Pakistanis and Afghan refugees in 2019.
Speaking at the hospital, the high commissioner thanked the people and government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for hosting some 800,000 Afghan refugees in the spirit of Islamic values of hospitality and generosity.
“Investment in health systems is a demonstration of solidarity and burden sharing by the international community with the people of Pakistan. The international community values Pakistan’s generous support to Afghan refugees despite facing internal challenges,” Filippo Grandi said.
Dr Faisal Sultan, chief executive officer of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre appreciated the support from UNHCR for the construction of the Emergency Assessment Unit and provision of state-of-the-art equipment.
“The hospital has established itself as a centre of excellence providing comprehensive care free-of-cost to thousands of cancer patients, regardless of their ethnicity or nationality. Doors are open for all, including Afghan refugees,” he said.
UNHCR constructed the emergency assessment room and provided other medical equipment to the hospital in 2015.
“I have been associated with the Shaukat Khanum Hospital for six years, using my voice to raise awareness and lift the stigma of breast cancer so the disease can be caught early and treated.
I am deeply moved by the hospital’s mission of equal treatment for all, irrespective of their ability to pay, including refugees,” he said.