Since 2000, each year on 20 June the globe has come together to honor the World Refugee Day. It is an international day designated by the United Nations to honour refugees around the globe. It was originally known as Africa Refugee Day, before the United Nations General Assembly officially designated it as an international day in December 2000. First refugee day was celebrated on 20 June 2001 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Since then, the day has been honoured as an occasion to build empathy and understanding for refugees’ plight and to recognize their resilience in rebuilding their lives.
Unfortunately wars, violence, persecution and other emergencies have forcibly displaced more than 100 million people worldwide. Among them are refugees, asylum seekers, and people displaced inside their own countries. Fortunately, with such a large numbers of displaced people, there has also been a tremendous outpouring of support and solidarity for children, women and men seeking safety. In recent years, the worldwide refugee crisis has taken center stage. This is why, it has become more important than ever not just to highlight the need for support but also appreciate the efforts of the countries – especially third world countries like Pakistan – in dealing with daunting task of hosting refugees.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are immediate neighbours. Plagued by decades of violent conflict and natural disasters, Afghanistan has created one of the largest refugee populations in the world following Syrian refugees and displaced Venezuelans. Over the last four decades, Pakistan has hosted several waves of Afghan refugees fleeing from wars. The first wave of Afghan refugees began with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 while the second wave began in 1990s with the collapse of the Afghan government and subsequent formation of the Taliban government in 1996. Pakistan witnessed the third wave of Afghan refugees as a result of US-led forces’ invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 whereas the fall of Ashraf Ghani’s government on 15 August 2021 caused the fourth wave. Notwithstanding the consistent socio-economic and security challenges, Pakistan continues to host the second-largest refugee population of almost three million Afghans.
As per the latest UN figures, 1.3m Afghans are residing in Pakistan while over 300,000 have entered Pakistan since the fall of Kabul. There are over 50 Afghan refugee camps operational in Pakistan. Out of which 43 camps are in the province of KP housing nearly 1 million refugees. About 68% of these Afghan refugees in Pakistan live in urban areas while only 32% live in the camps. Registered Afghan refugees not only have the liberty to move freely anywhere in the country but also have access to health, education in public and private institutions, employment opportunities as well as facility to open bank accounts in any bank. Pakistan through Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas Program (RAHA), runs special programs to enhance skills of the refugees in various trades in order to enable them earn better livelihoods for themselves and their families. Moreover, an Urban Refugees Support Unit has been established recently to provide assistance and facilitation to refugees living in urban and semi urban areas in KP in terms of health, education, employment, protection and voluntary repatriation.
As a consequence to Pakistan’s solidarity and compassion for hosting Afghan refugees, a large number of settled Afghan refugees now see Pakistan as their first home. Pakistan as a destination of choice for millions of Afghans fleeing their strife-torn homeland for the past four decades speak volumes for her empathy and compassion for the displaced refugee population.
It is appalling to note that the 86% of the world’s refugee population is hosted by countries like Pakistan or Uganda that have far less capacity and fewer resources. On the contrary, wealthy nations like Europe and US despite capacity and resources are failing to meaningfully share the responsibility for protecting people who have fled their homes in search of safety. Since August 2021, international policies have immensely contributed to a catastrophic humanitarian emergency that has left a quarter of the population facing the risk of famine and extreme levels of hunger while pushing Afghan families into more and more desperate measures of survival.
On this world refugee day, let us appreciate Pakistan and other poor countries for their generous contribution in helping create a more peaceful world while urging genuine international cooperation besides meaningful and fair sharing of responsibilities.
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