Fate of Afghan refugees

Published September 26, 2014
.— AFP file photo
.— AFP file photo

MUCH hinges on the success of the new power-sharing deal in Kabul, including the fate of over a million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Along with the success of the ‘unity government accord’ between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the return of the Afghan refugees to their homeland will be determined by how stable conditions are after the foreign forces leave.

Right now, the prospects for swift repatriation don’t look very bright. At a recent workshop organised in Peshawar by UNHCR and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees, participants were told that while 19,000 Afghans returned home in 2013, this year so far only 4,800 refugees had been repatriated.

This is despite the fact that the UN refugee agency has increased cash assistance to the displaced Afghans and provided them transport to cross the border. The slowdown is fuelled by fears of what may happen in Afghanistan in the months ahead. For its part, Pakistan, which hosts around 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees (and reportedly over a million unregistered individuals), has much on its plate already, including hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons.

Pakistan has been tackling the Afghan refugee crisis for over three decades; the UNHCR has acknowledged it as the “largest protracted refugee situation globally”.

This newspaper believes that repatriation should be voluntary — keeping in mind that without peace in war-torn Afghanistan, the refugees may not want to return. While the UN and those countries that have been militarily involved in Afghanistan must support Pakistan’s efforts to care for the displaced Afghans, there are steps authorities within the country can take to mitigate the problem.

For one, better border management is needed as currently, individuals can slip into Pakistan without much hindrance. People have been known to take money offered by the UN, leave for Afghanistan and soon find their way back to Pakistan. Additionally, there has been no coherent refugee policy at the national level, which is hampering efforts to effectively address the problem.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

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