PESHAWAR: There are fears that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s tough stand against registered and unregistered Afghans will expose refugees to harassment and exploitation at the hands of the police.
After the killing of 150 people, including 134 children, in the December 16 terrorist attack on Army Public School in Peshawar, the provincial government had held a cabinet meeting on security on Friday.
The cabinet had declared the presence of a large number of Afghan refugees in the province a burden, which, it insisted, affected security situation in the province.
Also read: No involuntary repatriation of Afghans
They had decided to ask the federal government to send Afghan refugees home and finalise a repatriation plan in 30 days.
“The cabinet’s decision was totally unrealistic. It can only encourage the police to extort money from Afghan nationals in the province,” said an official.
Senior officials said the cabinet’s decision could only embolden the police to exploit Afghan nationals, including those who had been granted permission by the federal government to stay in the country until December 2015.
Official says any illegal action against registered refugees could trigger outrage against country
“Any illegal action against registered Afghans can cause outrage against Pakistan,” an official said.
He said the police could arrest undocumented Afghan nationals under the law and could even deport them to their country anytime because the United Nations or any other world body won’t support illegal Afghans.
The official said it was the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s efficiency that it couldn’t take legal action against Afghans living in the province illegally.
He said there was a lack of will on part of the federal and provincial governments to resolve the lingering issue.
Many times in the past, the Afghan embassy and UN refugee agency had complained about harassment of refugees by the police and even the provincial home and tribal affairs department had suspended several police officials for it.
In its meeting on last Friday, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cabinet had asked the federal government to prepare a plan of action to shift registered Afghans from different cities in the province to designated camps within a month and deport undocumented Afghans from the country forthwith.
Currently, Pakistan hosts 1.6 million Afghan refugees, whom the government has issued the Proof of Registration cards through the National Database Registration Authority and thus, legalising their stay in the country until December 2015.
The number of Afghan newborns, who are also called legal refugees, is on the rise.
50,000-70,000 such children add to the Afghans in the country every year. Around 900,000 of the total 1.6 million refugees are staying in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa only.
An official dealing with the refugees said the number of unregistered Afghan nationals were between two and three million.
He said unfortunately, there existed no documented data about illegal Afghans in the country.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has been opposing extension in the stay of registered refugees in the province. Sources said the provincial government recently sent a letter to the federal government to express opposition to two years extension in the stay of refugees in the country.
Like the current political dispensation in the province, the coalition government of the Awami National Party and Pakistan People’s Party in the province had strongly opposed the federal government’s ‘lenient policy’ towards registered refugees, especially on grant of extension in their stay, despite the presence of a large number of internally displaced persons in the province.
The previous government had warned registered refugees in August 2012 to return home before the expiry of their legal status in December 2012, while police were ordered to start operation against unregistered Afghans immediately.
Also, the Peshawar High Court had directed the federal government last year not to grant further extension in the stay of registered refugees in the province.
However, the Supreme Court set aside the order.
Despite strong opposition by the province and high court’s decision, the prime minister gave two years extension in the stay of the registered refugees in the province. Also, the police failed to crack down on illegal Afghan nationals.
The Ministry of State and Frontier Regions had worked out a contingency plan for repatriation of registered Afghans refugees in 2013, which roughly requires Rs9.397 billion for the exercise.
However, the plan was not executed as the Afghan refugees were given extension in their stay until Dec 2015.
Published in Dawn December 24th , 2014