Afghan girls in their traditional dresses pose during a ceremony held to mark World Refugee Day on Tuesday. – INP
Afghan girls in their traditional dresses pose during a ceremony held to mark World Refugee Day on Tuesday. – INP

ISLAMABAD: Rahib Nawabi, 31, an Afghan refugee, says he can never forget the hospitality which he and other refugees received during their stay in Pakistan.

“We wish we can go back to our country but the current security situation back home doesn’t allow us to return. As soon as the situation improves, we will go back to our country but the love for the people of Pakistan will always remain in our hearts,” he told Dawn at the Shalimar Cricket Ground where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (Safron) marked the World Refugee Day.

The day is observed on June 20 every year as a tribute to the courage and resilience of the millions of people uprooted as a result of ongoing conflicts, wars and natural disasters globally. The Afghan refugees on the occasion presented musical performances and played a cricket match with Pakistani students. Stalls were also set up by Afghan vendors to highlight their culture.

“I came to Pakistan in 1992 when I was eight-year-old. I grew up here. One day we will go back to Afghanistan but the hospitality of the Pakistani people will never be forgotten,” said Nawabi.

Another refugee, Mohammad Hamad, who is getting education from the International Islamic University Islamabad, said Pakistan always gave importance to the Afghan refugees. “We appreciate Pakistan for hosting millions of registered and unregistered Afghan refugees. This is something we can’t forget,” he said.

According to the UNHCR, Pakistan has hosted almost 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees for over 35 years which is the largest protracted refugee population globally. A large number of unregistered Afghans are also living in various parts of the country.

Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Safron Abdul Qadir Baloch reiterated the government’s commitment to the voluntary, gradual and dignified return of Afghan refugees to their country.

“We are proud of our hospitality and will continue supporting every initiative for the establishment of peace, prosperity and development in Afghanistan,” he said, adding a peaceful and developed Afghanistan was in the best interest of Pakistan. He said improving relations between the two countries was equally important for regional peace and security.

UNHCR representative Indrika Ratwatte appreciated Pakistan for the hospitality in hosting the world’s most protracted refugee population and commended the government’s current efforts at formulating a policy on the Afghan refugees, including its decision of documenting the non-refugee Afghan population.

He also paid tributes to the resilience of the refugees and said around the world conflicts were forcing record numbers of people to flee with a devastating impact on individuals and families.

The cricket match, which was played between Afghan refugees/embassy staff and Pakistani students, was won by the former. Secretary Safron Pir Bakhsh Jamali assured the UNCHR of Pakistan’s full support in every step it takes for the betterment of the refugees.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2015

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