PESHAWAR: Minister for State and Frontier Regions Lt-Gen (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch on Friday said Pakistan would not allow entry of Afghan refugees if the situation in their country deteriorated after the withdrawal of Nato forces in 2014.
“Pakistan will not welcome fresh influx of refugees from Afghanistan and use all legal channels in collaboration with the international community to block entry of Afghans on the border,” he said when asked whether Islamabad would provide shelter to fresh refugees if there was turmoil in the neighbouring country after the Nato pullout.
After meeting officials of the Afghan Commissionerate and UNHCR here, the minister told a news conference that Pakistan would utilise all options to stop Afghan refugees from crossing over the border although there was a possibility that a small number of the people from Afghanistan made their way into Pakistan.
“In case Afghanistan is unstable, then the local residents will be left with no choice but to flee to Pakistan but even then, we won’t welcome them,” he said.
Pakistan had opened its border and provided shelter to millions of refugees on ‘humanitarian ground’ after former Soviet Union forces invaded Afghanistan in 1979 though Islamabad is not a signatory to the Geneva Convention.
Mr Baloch said Pakistan had provided shelter to five million refugees at that time and that three million registered and undocumented Afghans currently lived in the country.
He said Pakistan was still hosting the largest population of refugees in the world and that the international community should recognise the contribution.
Mr Baloch said around 2.1 million people had fled Syria before taking shelter in eight countries, while Pakistan was unilaterally bearing the burden of over three million Afghans as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had badly suffered among the four provinces.
“The people may not tolerate refugees anymore,” he said and asked the Afghan government to create conducive environment in its country to ensure return of refugees.
He also urged the international community to play its role to facilitate voluntary return of the refugees from Pakistan.
The minister apprehended that the people might take to the streets and ask for forced expulsion of refugees if they were not returned to Afghanistan before December 2015, which had been fixed as the final deadline of all registered Afghans in Pakistan. He said Pakistan had suffered $200 billion losses for three decades due to the stay of refugees.
Earlier, the government had set December 2012 the deadline for the voluntary return of the refugees but was later extended until December 2015.
Mr Baloch said Afghan refugees were expected to go back to their country voluntarily within the stipulated timeframe.
He said UNHCR had made the $600 million commitment for the rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure in the refugee hosting areas across the country.
The minister, however, said only $15 million had been provided for the project.
Expressing serious concern over police excesses against refugees, he asked police to restrain from harassing registered Afghans.
He said all Afghans with Proof of Registration (PoR) cards, which had expired in 2012, could stay in the country and therefore, police should not harass such people.
Mr Baloch said renewal of expired PoR cards would begin in the next two months.
He said the government would reach out to traditional and nontraditional donors, including the Gulf countries, to get funds for rehabilitation of refugee-affected areas.
Asked about delay in the renewal of PoR cards, he said technical issues between UNHCR and National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) had caused the delay in the process.