The United Nations refugee agency today confirmed that it assisting the Government of Pakistan to issue new refugee cards to more than 1.6 million Afghan refugees in the country, certifying that they are legally in the country and should be allow access to social services and basic rights.The refugee card “protects against risks such as extortion, arbitrary arrest and detention as well as deportation under Pakistan’s Foreigner’s Act,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva.Under the two-phase process, current card holders of the so-called proof-of-registration (PoR) cards will get a replacement card valid until the end of 2015. The current ones were set to expire on 30 June.From July to the end of this year, Pakistani authorities will register and issue individual cards to some 150,000 children born during the past five years.In addition, under the initiative, another 330,000 Afghan children below the age of eighteen will receive birth certificates for the first time. Mr. Edwards said that the UN agency “welcomes the issuance of birth certificates,” adding that it offers important protection for refugee children as it helps to prevents statelessness, makes it easier for children to access social services and schooling, and allows for the issuance of documentation.In July of last year, Islamabad announced that it would renew the commitment of Pakistan, the world’s largest refugee-hosting nation, to continue to provide protection and safety to Afghan refugees. The announcement came as Pakistan finalized a new national policy for Afghan refugees, which includes recommendations for extending PoR cards and continuing a tri-partite arrangement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR governing voluntary returns of the refugees.Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of 1979 and UNHCR has been engaged with the Government of Pakistan, as well as with those of Iran and Afghanistan, in managing their stays and facilitating voluntary returns.Since 2002, UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation programme has helped nearly 4.8 million Afghans return home from Pakistan and Iran. The UN agency also supports the sustainable reintegration of Afghans who decide to return to their country.