Time for Afghan refugees to go back?

By Hamna Iqbal Baig

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Afghan refugees sitting on top of a bus with their luggage, leaving Pakistan. Photo : Google

Imagine if you had to flee your country and go to another country for safety. And you did not even have the time to pack your bags. You enter a completely new homeland which you cannot even call home. You have no money and are jobless to feed your family. You have no shelter and have to live in congested refugee camps. You are at the mercy of others to support you. You will always be treated as an outsider or a guest. This is the plight of 21.3 million refugees (UNHCR) around the world for whom life as a refugee is a terrifying reality.

The refugee crisis around the world prevails since the last seven decades but it has intensified now. According to UNHCR, Pakistan ranks second in the top hosting countries where 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees live, while another million are estimated to be unregistered. Out of these 750, 102 Afghan refugees reside in KPK and FATA while the remaining 1,527,657 refugees reside in other provinces of Pakistan (as shown in the infographic below). The first wave of Afghan refugees in Pakistan began when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Another wave of these refugees came to Pakistan when the US and the NATO forces invaded Afghanistan after 9/11.

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Overview of Refugee and IDP population of Pakistan. Source : UNHCR

According to a report titled ‘Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity: The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees’, by the New York based Human Rights Watch, Pakistan has pushed out almost 600,000 Afghan refugees, since July 2016. However, what the world and international organizations fail to understand is that owing to Pakistan’s security and economic condition the country is not in a position to accommodate a record number of refugees.

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Afghan women and children waiting outside a validation center. Photo: Google

A few post-terror attack investigations have revealed the involvement of these refugees in criminal activities and terrorist attacks. Intelligence reports have indicated that some criminals disguising themselves as Afghan refugees lived in refugee camps and even outside. Contrary to this, Dawn recently cited that Afghans constitute only one percent of those involved in heinous offences in Khyber Pakhtun Khwa. However, the figures are often off quoted. Documents retrieved through KP’s Right to Information Act 2013 reveals that only 134 of 10,549 cases of major crimes involved Afghan refugees.

Due to lack of support from international community and its own issues Pakistan is not being able to absorb the burden of these refugees. Hence, new repatriation plans by government state that it will not extend Afghan refugees stay beyond March 2017. Proof of registration and proper documentation is required for these refugees to leave the country and return later (if they wish to) after obtaining visas only.

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Afghan refugees gather for renewal of their family cards at a registration center. Source : AFP

Many argue that the strained Pak-Afghan relations, Afghanistan’s close ties with India and Afghanistan’s inability to take action against TTP elements spreading terror across Pakistan are reasons for Pakistan to speed up the process of sending back Afghan refugees.

Amidst all this, the refugees suffer the most. They are forced to return to homes and villages which have been destroyed. They are being sent back to the place which lacks basic facilities like electricity, hospitals, and schools and have no job opportunities. They fled Afghanistan towards Pakistan for safety but now they have to return to their homes despite the uncertain security conditions there.

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An Afghan refugee girl walks back to her home unaware that she will have to leave Pakistan anytime. Photo : Google

 

Afghan refugees face repatriation from Pakistan. Source : Al Jazeera English

“What choice do we have except to pack up and go back to the war torn country where our lives will be at stake.”

– An Afghan refugee, Aston Khista Khan who has taken refugee in Jalala (Mardan District, KPK) since 35 years. 

Afghan refugees are reluctant to go home to an uncertain future as many doesn’t know of what will become of them and their families. 

 

 

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