KARACHI: Pakistan hosts as many as 1.5 million refugees, which is the second largest number in the world after Turkey, which is home to 1.59 million Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“It is alarming to see the rise of violence and emergence of new conflicts, forcing populations to flee their homes and end up as refugees in other countries. This is an international catastrophe which needs global attention,” said Shah Ahmed Saeed, consul general of Afghanistan at an event held in a local hotel on World Refugee Day.
It was also stated that globally the ongoing conflict in Syria was producing the highest number of refugees, while the Afghan refugees in south-west Asia remained the world’s most protracted refugee population, with 95 per cent of this population being in Pakistan and Iran.
Mr Saeed added that it was the top priority of the Afghanistan government to encourage, assist and support the repatriation of refugees and their resumption of normal life, both socially and economically. However, the Afghan diplomat admitted that it could not alone stand up to the task.
“We have been asking donors to divert their attention to assisting in reintegration; we have to ensure for them shelter, jobs, clean drinking water and a peaceful and secure environment to live.”
Problems faced by the Afghan refugees in Pakistan were also highlighted, with the consul general mentioning the issue of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards.
“While some of the refugees do have PoR cards, others have not yet obtained them. We had a successful talk between Minister of States of Frontier Regions general Abdul Qadir Baloch and Afghan Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Said Hussain Alimi Balkhi, and Mr Baloch said PoR cards would be given to the refugees so that they could enjoy their benefits.”
The bulk of Afghan refugees is still concentrated in Pakistan and Iran, but many have repatriated in the last decade because of the establishment of an interim government in Afghanistan.
Mr Saeed said the Afghan government was working with the Pakistan government to expedite the return of refugees. “We want Pakistan’s support till all the refugees return to Afghanistan,” he remarked.
Karachi Commissioner Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui supported safeguarding of the rights of refugees.
“It is essential to think of the refugees because they are part of the world order and world peace. If they are neglected, we will be giving rise to frustration which will be a threat to law and order,” he said.
Sahibzada Younas of the UNHCR Karachi said there was a need to bridge the gap between the privileged and the under-privileged in society, which includes the refugees. This he said could only be done if one the commonality between the two segments is highlighted.
The stories of two of the Afghan refugees were also shared with the audience. Khair Muhammad, hailing from Kunduz province of Afghanistan, spoke about his forcible recruitment by the Afghan government to fight against the Taliban, when he was only in grade nine.
“We were pushed into a bloody war without our free will. We were not allowed to travel through roads or highways, so we had to walk our way out of the country. Many died on the way and were buried there. It seemed like we had no destination and no purpose,” said Khair Muhammad describing his arduous journey to Pakistan.
In 1997, he and his family settled in Gadap Town, Karachi, where he completed his education and learnt speaking English. He is now working as an interpreter at the Society for Human Rights and Prisoners Aid, which is one of the UNHCR’s main implementing partners, and is also studying human resource at the Institute of Business and Technology.
“I believe that a single man can change the circumstance of his life,” said Khair Muhammad.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2015