Afghan refugee concerns

Published February 28, 2015
A view of a mosque. — Reuters/File
A view of a mosque. — Reuters/File

IN the wake of the Peshawar APS tragedy, there is a justifiable desire to zero in on militants in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital as well as elsewhere in the province. But while such actions are being taken, it must be ensured that law-abiding and registered Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan are not scooped up by the dragnet.

As reported on Thursday, the KP administration has decided to expel around 300 Afghan clerics residing illegally in the province for their apparent links to acts of terrorism.

On the surface, this is a perfectly acceptable move: individuals — foreign or local — involved in facilitating terrorism or fanning extremism must be dealt with as per the law of the land. Even the UNHCR has said that it does not support Afghan refugees involved in militancy.

Yet there are signs that under the cover of such counterterrorism efforts, Afghan refugees who have broken no law are also being harassed. For example, in Sindh, refugees have accused police of picking up men and children and thereafter releasing them upon payment. Some human rights groups have also raised concerns about the reported forced repatriation of refugees.

In the aftermath of national tragedies, it is easy to get swept away by emotion and blame the ‘other’ for our woes. While foreigners involved in militancy in Pakistan must be dealt with, it is totally unacceptable to hound law-abiding refugees or force them to leave.

Of course, dealing with the refugee question has been a daunting task for Pakistan for several decades; even today, there are said to be around 1.6 million registered Afghans in the country, with up to a million illegal refugees.

As per the tripartite agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UNHCR, the refugees can stay in this country till the end of this year. Until there is a permanent solution to their plight, legally registered refugees must not be harassed or forced out, and must be allowed to live with dignity in Pakistan.

The KP chief minister has said the legal Afghans should not be hassled; all provincial administrations must ensure there are clear guidelines against the harassment of these displaced people. Ultimately, it is hoped that conditions in Afghanistan improve to such a level that the millions of refugees living outside their war-battered homeland feel confident enough to return to their country. Ensuring such conditions is, of course, the primary responsibility of the government in Kabul.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2015

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