KARACHI, June 3: While the number of registered Afghan refugees of different ethnicities living in Sindh has reduced from 78,000 to 68,000 with the repatriation of thousands of Afghans over the past three years, the Pakistan and Afghanistan governments have yet to set this year’s target for their repatriation, it emerged at a workshop on Monday.

Speakers at the workshop highlighted the need for the inclusion of Afghan refugees and host communities in the development agenda of Pakistan with a focus on the Afghans’ access to livelihood programmes, employment and decent work opportunities.

The workshop was organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations for High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to seek inputs to address “decent work deficits of workers, including women/children, from Afghan refugees and hosting communities”.

The participants, including officials of the labour department, various workers and employers associations and rights groups, were told that originally about 92,000 Afghans had been registered as refugees in Sindh, particularly Karachi, between 2006 and 2009. Their number reduced to 74,000 refugees in 2010 and to 68,000 at present, said a representative of the Ministry of States and Frontier Region.

The official said there were about 68,000 registered Afghan refugees of different ethnicities living in Sindh, with their highest concentration in Karachi’s Gadap Town.

It was noted that the Afghan refugees were mostly found in Pakhtun-dominated neighbourhoods of the city such as Gadap, Site, Banaras, Landhi, Korangi, Garden East and Ayesha Manzil, in addition to seasonal migration to and from Tando Allahyar and Hyderabad.

There had been a good deal of voluntary repatriation of the Afghan refugees from Sindh during the recent years, but other aspects such as population growth in both registered and unregistered Afghan communities could not be overlooked, noted a speaker from an NGO.

It was said that all registered Afghans in possession of the Proof of Registration (PoR) document had a legal right to stay in Pakistan until June 30, 2013.

In Gadap Town alone, 80 per cent of the PoR holders lived, it was said.

According to the background papers circulated among the participants, as of October 2012, the UNHCR assisted over 62,000 refugees to return to Afghanistan from different parts of Pakistan. Despite the return of more than 5.7 million Afghans to their homeland since 2002, there are still nearly two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

In addition to the registered refugees, there are about 300,000 Afghans whose registration needs validation besides around one million unregistered Afghans residing in the country.

Sharjeel Kharal of the UNHCR said that target for repatriation in 2013 was yet to be agreed upon by the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, while further extension of the PoR cards validity would be decided by the new government in the Centre.

Highlighting the objectives of the workshop, Mr Kharal said the UNHCR was advocating an inclusion of Afghan Refugees/host communities in the development agenda of Pakistan, mainly to focus on Afghan access to livelihood programmes, employment promotion and decent work opportunities.

“ILO and UNHCR task is to address the hard issues of creating an integrated policy framework for the refugees and host communities at the national and provincial level. The joint objective will serve the purpose of providing the less privileged group with decent work opportunities, educational facilities and vocational/skill training by having special focus on Afghan women and children,” he elaborated.

He emphasised that efforts being put forward by the UNHCR and the ILO would result in increased awareness of policy makers, donors, media and people about the importance, need and function of adult literacy and other decent work opportunities for the Afghan refugees and host population residing in Pakistan.

Dr Saifullah Choudhary of the ILO said that a consultative process was begun in May 2011 among the governments of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan and the UNHCR to develop a multi-year strategy with a focus on three elements — voluntary repatriation, sustainable reintegration and support to host communities.

After commissioning of two baseline research studies in Quetta and Peshawar under joint initiatives of the ILO and the UNHCR, it was felt that similar work be initiated in Sindh and Punjab as well, Mr Choudhary said. He added that the key findings of the studies carried out in Peshawar showed poor social and economic indicators for both Afghan refugees and host communities.

Most respondents from the two communities surveyed were reportedly earning less than the minimum wage and incidence of child labour was high in both communities. A vast majority of them (around 90 per cent) reported to have no formal or written employment contracts and appeared to be unaware of the present minimum wage level, indicating weak bargaining position to negotiate terms of employment.

The ILO representative also discussed a project strategy comprising upstream policy level interventions and institutional capacity building, complemented by downstream direct services provision engaging directly the target communities. He also called for empowerment of Afghan refugees for voluntary repatriation to their homeland and their positive participation in the economy and social development of Pakistan as well as Afghanistan when they were sent back home, under the Afghan Refugees Management Repatriation Strategy.

It was mentioned that most of the Afghan refugee daily wage earners were engaged in construction masonry, cattle feed production, fisheries, textile mills, carpet weaving, leather goods manufacturing factories or working as meat sellers and rag pickers.

Syed Ali Ashraf, an official of the Sindh labour department, Rana Asif, Mohammad Ajab Khan and U.R. Usmani and Alauddin Masood also spoke.

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