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Afghan refugees in Pakistan resist pressure to return


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Afghan refugees wait at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registration centre on the outskirts of Peshawar before their departure to their home country. — Photo by AFP

JALALA: Despite pressure from Islamabad and incentives from the UN, the vast majority of the 1.6 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan are still refusing to return to a country gripped by war and poverty.

“Some people think that the security situation has improved in Afghanistan, but they're wrong,” said Malak Nader, who represents 500 families in the Jalala refugee camp on the outskirts of Mardan, a farming town in northwestern Pakistan.

“If we support the government, the Taliban will come the next day and slit our throats and if we support the Taliban, the coalition forces will come and bomb us,” the truck driver told AFP.

More than five million Afghans fled their homeland for Pakistan in the early 1980s, soon after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan.

Since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban regime, 3.8 million have returned, leaving 1.6 million behind, most born and brought up in Pakistan.

But as the 2014 deadline nears for Nato combat troops to leave Afghanistan, they are under increasing pressure from Pakistan to leave.

Their formal refugee documents are valid only until December 31, and Islamabad has so far declined to confirm publicly that it will renew their residency.

“If they don't go in these conditions where every country is present in Afghanistan to provide them peace, when will they leave?” Pakistan's minister for states and frontier regions, Shaukat Ullah, told reporters recently.

“Our idea is that they should go and participate in their country's development.”

At talks with Afghan and UN officials at the weekend, Pakistan said it wanted to make repatriation “faster and better” but reiterated its commitment to a “voluntary process” although saying the deadline remains the same.

In late October, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) boosted incentives for Afghans to return — adding fuel, clothes and tarpaulin to the food package previously given to those looking to repatriate.

As a result, around 10,000 Afghans went home from October 23 to November 30 — more than double the numbers who were repatriated in the same period last year.

Preparing to join them was the elderly Azat Khan, who spent 30 years in exile in northwestern Pakistan but spoke to AFP as he got ready to drive back to Afghanistan.

He has always come and gone — first to fight the Russians, then to conduct business or to visit extended family — but this time it is for good.

“My house is completely destroyed over there, I have to rebuild it,” said the father-of-11 from Paktika province in southeastern Afghanistan, upbeat about the future despite fears of a new civil war after 2014.

“I am happy to leave, it's costing me less,” said Azat referring to the incentives from the United Nations.

But there is a catch: Afghans who leave give up their refugee status. If they come back, it will be without the protection of the law like a million other illegal Afghans, regularly accused by the Pakistanis of being criminals.

According to the UN, nearly 97 per cent of the refugees have no intention of leaving Pakistan, largely due to the insecurity.

Faced with the stalemate, charities have suggested that a new permit should be created allowing Afghans and Pakistanis to work on both sides of the border, legally, without risk of being harassed.

If their refugee papers are not renewed, UNHCR representative in Pakistan Neill Wright said it was “hazy” what would happen on January 1.

“They have never knowingly deported or forced an Afghan registered refugee back,” he said, adding that he was “quietly confident” the same situation would continue next year.

Back in Jalala, which looks more like a village than a refugee camp, with sugar cane fields and mud-brick homes, Nader said he did not want to risk losing everything in Pakistan for an uncertain future in Afghanistan.

“As long as the Pakistani government doesn't expel us, we'll stay here,” he said, as a dozen men from the camp nodded in agreement.

Comments (40) Closed

Gull khan Dec 12, 2012 09:15pm
well!, now it has become difficult to deport them, cos those children's who have born in Pakistan are the naturally citizen of Pakistan even without CNIC, and those who are here from 30 years are also unable to be deport, this is the law not only of Pakistan but all over the world, means to "international law" and local laws as well. and those who does not fall in above said both categories must be deport.
YA Dec 12, 2012 08:42pm
A country which cannot provide for its own people is in no position to provide charity. We already have too many divisions in our country, dont need another faction to add to the mix....
ansar Dec 15, 2012 08:04am
Iftikhar Habib Khan.................i agree with you.... regards Muhammad Ansar
Sue Sturgess Dec 15, 2012 08:45am
The same happens worldwide. Unfortunately, the actions of a few, reflect badly upon the many. Even within Pakistan ... they profess to hate "the west", yet gladly accept their money! How does that work?
Sue Sturgess Dec 15, 2012 08:49am
when someone is born in a country ... that IS their home!!!
Sue Sturgess Dec 15, 2012 08:51am
Even non-muslim countries have moral duties, and most accept a certain number of genuine refugees each ye. Here in Australia, it costs the taxpayers billions each year.
Sue Sturgess Dec 15, 2012 08:54am
almost every country thinks this. In Australia, it costs billions each year to accept refugees
Sania Dec 13, 2012 02:25pm
I agree with you. I have come across afgans in my class. They have nothing good to say about Pakistan and carry so much hatred in their heart for our motherland. These are the same folks who lived in Pakistan, got their education, livelihood and still blame a country who gave them a everything and a place to live. Selfish is the only word comes to my mind. Pakistani's should wake up before it is too late. Whether, someone likes it or not, these people need to back back where they came from. If they hate our country so much, why do they live in Pakistan? Please go back!
dave Dec 13, 2012 10:40am
Gohar u have exact number of refusees who are in your country and you seem to be getting frustrated about that, but dont forger they are ur muslim brothers. u should be happy that your country is helping the homeless muslims. You never get tired of crying and blaming others when somethin happens to the muslims out of pakistan, like u have the responsibility to take care of all muslims of the world. But when they are in ur house in adversity or hard time u want them to be kicked. How funny!!!
Saleem Dec 13, 2012 02:59am
well said.
Tahir Saeed Dec 13, 2012 02:28am
How long Pakistan would suffer in the hands of these miscreants and the most ungrateful people on the face of this planet. I know one or two of these so called refugees they blame Pakistan for all there ills and at the same TIme don't want to leave it. It is high time for Pakistan to start taking care of her own citizens.These people have brought nothing but misery to our country the intolerance we see in our society today and treatment of women are all imported with the influx of these undesirable characters. If Pashtuns in Pakistan have a problem they can move to Afghanistan and b there with their would b good riddence .Historically they never belong to thi side of the mountain range separating Pakistan and Afghanistn' they made there appearance in the company of the Turk Mahmood of Ghazani. Let's have peace in this part of the world try to bring prosperity to the people of this unfortunate land, people deserve better life for themselves and Their future generations.
Ali Raza Dec 13, 2012 10:05am
The Afghan refugees should be allowed to stay in Pakistan as long as they wish. These refugees has their business here in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan should support these Afghan refugees.
Anony Dec 12, 2012 05:07pm
Try living in Afghanistan for a change then, and you'll realize how security is different between both the countries. I for one, fully support afghan people to be allowed to stay in Pakistan.
Karachiwalla Dec 13, 2012 01:29am
Expell them to india
amin Dec 13, 2012 04:46am
i realize there pain but there are no easy solutions. Though I strongly believe that afghan childrens who are at least born in pakistan should be given pakistani citizenship.
ali Dec 13, 2012 02:37am
Pakistan has been burdened with these refugees for three decades, it is time for them to go back as Pakistan cannot absorb them, the men have no skills and the women are not even allowed to work and majority of them do not know how to read and write.Pakistan has problem taking care of its own citizens they can ill afford to take care of these refugees, instead of the UN putting pressure on Afghanistan to take them back they are putting pressure on Pakistan to keep them a bit longer.This has got to stop and these people should be escorted to the border.
Kohyaar Yildarim Dec 12, 2012 07:36pm
Suleman, you are welcome to take your defeatist mentality with some of the refugees to Kabul. Hope you'll safe there, so good luck!
Edwardian Dec 12, 2012 11:21pm
Omar I support you. These Afghans have never begged, rather earned their living. One must not forget, Afghans are hardworking proud nation. They have great contribution in building our country, which has gone unnoticed. Everyone must have experienced an Afghan doing a manual job and they are lowly paid, as he has no choice. Has anyone seen them using a spade and shovel digging on a side of a road on our way to work and on our return witnessing the work he had done is far more than one could ever imagine. We Pakistanis are not really from this land and our ancestors migrated here. God has given us our Pakistan to get refuge and we should welcome those who are living in repression and an uncertain life. What would we do if He takes Pakistan away from us? Are our neighbours going to accept us? I feel ashamed when someone says that we Pakistanis have given them shelter and food. We haven't spent a penny on them from our pockets. They earn their living themselves.
Rafay Dec 12, 2012 11:23pm
I feel that we as a country should be willing, able, and committed to take in Afghan refugees. That is what makes countries great. That is what has made Europe and the Americas great. We should not turn them away, to go to a country engulfed in perpetual war. I just wish Pakistan was strong enough to do so. But we haven't been. These refugees are for all intents and purposes Pakistanis now. The nation should welcome them into the fold officially.
Anony Dec 12, 2012 05:06pm
I agree.
nick Dec 12, 2012 08:01am
As if the situation in pakistan is better.
Iftikhar Habib Khan Dec 13, 2012 06:28am
I wish they go back, Pakistan needs them to go back. But why go back and go back to where? And who can send them back??? The Afghans in Pakistan is the third generation of Afghan refugees, they and their parents have never been to Afghanistan. Most of them can't speak farsi or Dari. they have been born, brought up and educated in Pakistan. Their grand parents and in some cases their grand parents migrated to Pakistan. The educated and the rich ones migrated to Australia, Canada, USA, Germany and other European countries. The poor ones were left back in Pakistan, either to fight a Jihad or spread all over Pakistan and settle down permanently in Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. What started as a migration of refugees turned into an invasion. I live overseas, my best friends and colleagues are Afghans and everyone has a brother or sister settled in Islamabad and Peshawar. Who so ever Afghan I meet has nothing to say but bad words about ISI in particular and Pak Army in general. We could not bring back 150,00 Pakistanis from former East Pakistan. Just go and visit the streets of Karachi and areas such as Gulshan e Iqbal, Super Highway, Sohrab Goth and the G Sector of Islamabad. A very sad heart broken Pakistan I am. Iftikhar
Anony Dec 12, 2012 05:05pm
Well said.
N K Ali Dec 14, 2012 03:03am
As long as these Afghan refugees born in Pakistan play it safe according to the rules, Pakistan Citizen Act 1951, they are citizens. Let them remain peaceful and patriotic to the state rather than tribal loyalties. They can always be pushed back across the border once they start playing 'crook.' Salams
Ahsan Dec 13, 2012 03:39pm
Ali I as a pakistani agree with you.
Ahmed j Dec 12, 2012 12:38pm
Get the NATO-ISAF out of Afghanistan and things may get better for the Afghans. US, UK and other occupation forces from the west have strict immigration laws in their countries for Pakistanis. They do not want a Pakistani immigrant in their country. How many visas are turned down by them but their government policy of presence in Afghanistan has forced 1.8 million refugees into Pakistan. This burden of refugees need to be shared or at least seen from a Pakistani view vis a vis their stand on their immigration
omer khan shaheen Dec 12, 2012 01:02pm
I vote for allowing our Afghan brothers & sisters born in Pakistan or those who have been living here peacefully for last 30 years get permanent residency. I don't doubt for second this will benefit both the countries in every aspect and people who have been devastated by this war. "May Allah help us all and bless us with Imaan, courage, peace, and patience forever".
Khurram Dec 12, 2012 01:17pm
When game is ON one can make their own situations.... and GAME is always ON for both sides, right????
Riaz Dec 12, 2012 01:18pm
The people who do not want to leave are the poorest of the poor. There is the legal duty and there is the moral duty. Under moral duty, Pakistan as a Muslim country must not deport a poor and helpless Afghan and condemn him and his family to starvation. If I am correct, the Pakistani people always feel proud of their Ummah, so it is a question of putting your money where your mouth is. Alternatively, and in view of such good and cardinal relations, strategic and otherwise, between India and Afghanistan, why not ask India to share the burden by taking at least half the refugees. Pakistan is in dire straights while Indian economy is booming. Besides, Pakistan can only beg and plead, it has neither any power nor any clout, India with formidable clout in the UN can secure funds easily from the UN for looking after the refugees.
ZH hashmi Dec 12, 2012 01:39pm
Please go back to your home , we gave you shelter , business and everything on the name of Islam and Humanity . In return what you have given to us ! a strange brand of Islam and what not and bad name to our respected Pashtun Society including FATA people. please go back and do whatever you want to do in Afghanistan in the name of God
Suleman Dec 12, 2012 01:37pm
The situation is worse in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.
Rashid Dec 12, 2012 11:21am
@nick situation is much better in Pakistan.
Muhammad Ahsan KHAN Dec 13, 2012 08:11am
" leaving 1.6 million behind, most born and brought up in Pakistan." According to Pakistan Citizen Act 1951 any child born in Pakistan is Pakistani Citizen. The parents were Afghan Refugees but the children born and brought up in Pakistan are Pakistanis. Why should they leave the country of their birth?
dararao Dec 12, 2012 11:16am
As the president of Afghanistan sits in his presidential palace under heavy guard having no clue about the condition of his people. All he does is blame everthing on Pakistan while Pakistan on the other hand, allowed millions of Afghan refugees for more than 3 decades on humanitarian grounds. No other country in the world has ever allowed such a huge amount of refugees not even for a shorter period forget about decades. But now i guess Pak feels that its time for refugees to go back to their home country and may ask their president Mr karzai (not to forget he himself lived in Pakistan for a long time) to give them jobs, shelter, security, food etc like Pakistan did for decades if he suceeds (highly doubtful though) in a century than he can blame Pakistan for all the wrongs. Otherwise he should atleast be a little more thankful and appreciable when talking about Pakistan. Try to avoid spitting poison on the country who fed his people including himself for decades.
dave Dec 12, 2012 01:54pm
But Pakistan seems to lose this game and it is on the edge of breaking into pieces. Find out some way before it is too late!!!
Ajaya K Dutt Dec 12, 2012 02:08pm
Hindu India must respect Ummah. After all we sent our freedom fighters to clean up UnIslamic elements out of Kashmir. We did grant them to leave their womenfolk behind but they did not avail.
dave Dec 12, 2012 12:19pm
my friend situation can not be better till the game is on.
andy (ON, Canada) Dec 12, 2012 03:01pm
no thank you sir! we have enough troubles in India. and we have the largest number of poor people in the world. On top of it, we have more than 10 million illegal bangladeshis in India. this is when we are not an islamic country.Good luck with these refugees.
Gohar Dec 12, 2012 02:37pm
Then why the 4 million Afghan, 5 million Mohajir refugees from india, 4 million Kashmiri and 500,000 Iranian refugees in Pakistan? Suleman should go and live in Afghanistan where he can live in a cave without access to internet.
Fauzi Mahmood Dec 12, 2012 04:06pm
Afghans are suffering today because of Pakistan's interference. So why weep if thingd do not turn out good for us. Zia ul Haq imposed American agenda and got dollars also aid to help our muslim brother, we can not have everything and share nothing. Did we asked India to use Afghanistan for stretigic depth.