Hounding refugees

Published January 17, 2017

THE grim scapegoating of Afghan refugees by both the state and its law enforcers has long been assailed by right-minded sections of the public and the media. But the relentless propaganda against this vulnerable section has continued to the point where public opinion appears to have been irreversibly poisoned against the continued presence of Afghan refugees on Pakistani soil. In building a narrative of hostility, one particular accusation has played a central role — that Afghan refugees have driven up the crime rate in Pakistan, and KP in particular, to unacceptable levels. But, going by a report in this newspaper on Sunday, that myth has been exploded by official crime statistics themselves. According to documents obtained under the provincial Right to Information Act, of the major crimes in which cases were registered, the involvement of Afghan refugees was about 1pc of the total. The stark figures bear some repeating because they are obtained from the Directorate of Prosecution and Department of Police. From 2014 to September 2016, of the 10,549 cases put up in court, a negligible 134 cases involved Afghan refugees. And of the more than 23,007 individuals accused in the cases, only 300 consisted of Afghan refugees.

That the Afghan refugee involvement in major crimes in the province, as catalogued by the police itself, is so low is unsurprising — few major crimes have ever been specifically blamed on or proved to be the doing of Afghan refugees. What is shocking, however, is the degree to which public officials have distorted the truth in recent times. The vilification of Afghan refugees as a prelude to forcing them out of the country is an ongoing process and one of the more shameful chapters in this country’s history. While officially denied, Afghan refugees have become a pawn in a policy tug-of-war between the Afghan and Pakistani states: Kabul’s reluctance to cooperate on border management, its seeming unwillingness to clamp down on anti-Pakistan militant sanctuaries in eastern Afghanistan, and its aggressive denunciation of this country for a failed peace process have contributed to an environment where Pakistan may be seeking to punish Afghanistan by forcing it to take in a mass of population that it cannot sustain. True, Pakistan has a legitimate right to encourage the humane and voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees, but that right must not be abused for political purposes. The harassment of Afghan refugees must cease.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2017

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