The Government of Pakistan, with the support of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), on Thursday launched a nationwide verification exercise for 1.4 million Afghan refugees during which new smart cards would be issued. The Documentation Renewal and Information Verification Exercise (DRIVE) was inaugurated by Federal Minister for SAFRON Mehboob Sultan here at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. UNHCR Representative Noriko Yoshida and Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees Saleem Khan were also present on the occasion. During the six-month exercise, the registered Afghan refugees, who currently hold Proof of Registration (PoR) cards, would be provided with new smartcards, a press release here said. “The DRIVE exercise is a leap forward for everyone,” Yoshida said, welcoming its launch. “This step will allow refugees to have better, faster and safer access to services, including schools, hospitals and banks.” Yoshida added that in addition to verifying existing data, the exercise would record the Afghan refugees’ skill sets, level of education, socio-economic circumstances, allowing better targeted health, education and livelihood support in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees for four decades, and a lot has changed since the last verification exercise 10 years ago. It’s crucial that we update the data of Afghan refugees to understand their situation better,” the Federal Minister for SAFRON said. Sultan added,“As the country hosting one of the most protracted refugee situations in the world, Pakistan has strived to play its part in assisting and protecting refugees. It’s important the international community also continue to come forward, and share the responsibility and help find solutions.” He urged POR cardholders to participate fully in the exercise while taking all precautionary measures and observing Covid-19 protocols. Some 600 male and female staff – a combination of government and UNHCR – will be working at some 35 DRIVE verification sites around the country, and using mobile registration vehicles, to support refugees throughout the exercise. Measures are in place at all DRIVE sites to mitigate Covid-19 risks through enhanced hygiene, physical distancing and the scheduling of set numbers of appointments each day.