Afghan Refugees In Pakistan: Serving Humanity And Preserving Brotherhood – OpEd

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As per government and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data, there were around three million Afghans living in Pakistan during the peak of Soviet occupation era (1986–1987). There was a significant increase in the number of Afghan refugees over the time, particularly after the start of ‘War on Terror’.

According to NADRA, there were 2.8 million Afghans living in Pakistan in 2021, and 1.6 million of them had Proof of Registration (POR) cards showing that they had registered with the UNHCR. Some of the remaining refugees have Afghan Citizen Cards (ACCs), which were introduced in 2017 to protect Afghan migrants who were virtually without documents. According to a report from UNHCR, number of refugees in the Asia-Pacific area increased by 138,400, last year, reaching 4.2 million, or 19% of the total number of refugees worldwide. This is an increase of 3% from 2020. Even though it has been a year since US forces made a swift withdrawal from Kabul, Pakistan still hosts 1.5 million refugees, making it the largest host nation of refugees in Asia and the Pacific.

According to the UNHCR 2022 report, Pakistan concluded its drive to verify data on 1.4 million refugees who are on the move over past decade. There are more than 200,000 kids under five among those who have registered. “UNHCR commends Pakistan for its country-wide campaign to verify and update the data and to issue smart identity cards to the refugees”, the UN report added.

During his 2020 visit to Pakistan, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres praised Pakistan as a reliable and generous partner for hosting millions of Afghan refugees. Guterres said, “Despite its own challenges, Pakistan has sheltered and protected Afghan refugees with limited support from the international community.” He urged other countries to support Pakistan and show similar leadership in handling refugee flows across the world

Ahead of his visit, Guterres tweeted that Pakistan was “one of the most consistent and reliable contributors to peacekeeping efforts around the world.” He added, “I am travelling to Pakistan, where I plan to express my gratitude to the people #ServingForPeace”. Attending an international conference in Islamabad the UN chief said, “Pakistan has provided the world with a global public good supporting Afghan refugees and it’s time for the international community to assume its responsibilities, and to support Pakistan very meaningfully.”

On the other hand, the situation of Afghan Refugees is critical in Iran. The private Afghan broadcaster TOLO News reported that many Afghans are living in appalling conditions in Iran. “I went to Iran four months ago. But due to their bad treatment, even with people who had visas, I went to the police and surrendered myself to return to Afghanistan,” Sayed Mumtaz, an Afghan refugee, who is now back in Afghanistan, told TOLO news. Spokesperson for the Afghan government, Zabiullah Mujahid, urged Iran to treat Afghans “based on Islamic and neighborly values.” Taliban-led Afghan Foreign Ministry raised the issue of misconduct of Iranian officials with Afghan Refugees

“Faizanullah Nasiri, the second deputy political minister of political affairs of the Foreign Ministry, met officials from the embassy of Iran in Kabul and discussed the misconduct of the Iranian border forces with the Afghan refugees,” said a statement issued in Kabul. Quoting Amnesty International campaigner Samira Hamidi, Afghanistan’s local Pajhwok News reported that “Iran’s border guards point guns towards Afghan refugees at borders and force them to leave their country.” She further added, “Reliable sources have confirmed torture of Afghan refugees by border guards of Iran. There are video evidences showing discriminatory and shocking acts of Iranians… blatant acts of violation of human rights.”

Notwithstanding affirmation of the global refugee watch such as UNHCR, the recent outcry on the mistreatment of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is nothing more than a blatant lie. Pakistan being a sovereign state has some procedural regulations in order to maintain law & order and all those refugees who fill those requirements are not only living in the country with dignity but have also been provided with all the necessary facilities including access to higher education. Over 3000 Afghan students have been provided scholarship in top Pakistani universities to acquire higher education. The myths of mistreatment are part of an ongoing propaganda to weaken ties between the two countries. 

However, other side of the story is that there has been a surge in crime rate across the country and investigations revealed involvement of unregistered Afghan Refugees in most of the cases. Many of the culprits have been arrested, while, some of them managed to escape as there is no registered data of Afghan Refugees in NADRA. The presence of such illegal Afghan immigrants has also had an adverse impact on the national economy, contributing to cross-border smuggling and other illicit activities.

Those Afghan refugees who have fulfilled the state’s security requirements and received their registration certificates are living their best lives with all the necessary facilities at national level. However, those who intentionally fail to fulfill the said criteria are provided with two reasonable options within the legal realm i.e. return safely to their respective countries or await legal actions by the state. By doing so, Pakistan is not only abiding by its national regulations but also working to ensure regional peace and stability. Any responsible state would follow such steps to ensure peace and stability within the country as well as at regional level. There is no other state except Pakistan who has hosted the people of Afghanistan with such dignity and sacrifice. Currently, as Pakistan is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, managing such a massive number of refugees seems unfeasible. As a collective responsibility, international community should speak for the people of Afghanistan meanwhile supporting and acknowledging the efforts of Pakistan for accommodating Afghans for decades as a good will gesture.

Humais Sheikh, has completed his Master’s from Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad in Defense and Strategic studies. He is an independent defense analyst and Ex. Vice president of Defense and Strategic Studies student’s society.

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