ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the refugees conference on Monday as UN secretary general Antonio Guterres looks on.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the refugees conference on Monday as UN secretary general Antonio Guterres looks on.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

• Imran says violence in Afghanistan not in Pak interest
• FM proposes plan to activate refugee support platform
• UNHCR says hosting refugees is a collective responsibility, but world support remains insufficient

ISLAMABAD: Top United Nations officials and the Pakistan government on Monday urged the world to refocus its attention on Afghan refugees and support efforts for ending the protracted Afghan conflict to facilitate their return.

The call was made at the ‘International Conference on 40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: A New Partnership for Solidarity’, which opened here with representatives of nearly 20 countries in attendance.

UN secretary general António Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi are also here for participating in the conference, which has been co-hosted by Pakistan and the UNHCR.

The conference, organised to commemorate the four decades of Afghan refugees’ presence in Pakistan (one of the oldest refugee crises in the world), coincided with the progress in peace negotiations between the United States and the Afghan Taliban. It is estimated that Pakistan provided refuge to around 4.5 million Afghans at the peak of the conflict. Many refugees returned to their homeland, but nearly 2.7 million refugees still live in Pakistan.

In his address at the inaugural session of the conference, Mr Guterres asked the international community to step up to the plate and contribute to meeting the refugee needs and creating enabling conditions for their repatriation and reintegration in Afghanistan.

“We need a renewed commitment,” he said while calling for complementing peace efforts with reconstruction and creating conditions for return and reintegration of refugees. He urged “greater responsibility sharing” with Pakistan and Iran that have played host to Afghan refugees and emphasised that “Afghanistan and its people cannot be abandoned”.

He said the message from the conference was building new partnerships and renewing solidarity with Afghan refugees.

Mr Guterres noted that Pakistan had been hosting such a large number of refugees with “minimal” international support.

Support for Afghan refugees has dwindled over the years because of donor fatigue with the conflict that is in its 19th year and Kabul’s failure to reform governance.

Moreover, the number of refugees returning to Afghanistan is at a historic low and Afghans now constitute the largest group of refugees reaching Europe, overtaking the Syrians often through dangerous routes using unsafe means of transportation.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said Pakistan surmounted challenges like meagre resources to host the refugees. He also recalled Pakistan’s support for peace efforts in Afghanistan. “There is a consensus within Pakistan for peace in Afghanistan,” he said while referring to perceptions about divergence on the issue among Pakistani institutions.

Also rejecting the Afghan allegations about militant safe havens in Pakistan from where they allegedly carried out violence in Afghanistan, PM Khan said: “Be rest assured that it is not in our interest that violence continues.” He emphasised on developing trade and connectivity and noted that it was not possible without peace.

Seven-point plan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi proposed a seven-point action plan for activation of the recently established ‘Support Platform for the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees’. The proposed action plan called for supporting Afghan peace process; renewing pledges and commitments for meeting refugees requirements; forging new partnerships and reinforcing older ones for fulfilling the responsibility towards refugees; extending and enhancing resettlement opportunities in third countries; provision of resources to host countries for offering additional scholarships, and imparting employment skills; enhancing assistance for improving living conditions in Afghanistan; and creating an international fund for helping return of refugees and creating economic opportunities in host countries.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi appealed to the donors to provide aid through the Support Platform for Afghan refugees, which was set up at the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019.

“Hosting refugees is a responsibility, exercised on behalf of the international community – a responsibility that, we must recognize, has not been equitably shared. … international support, while welcome, remains woefully insufficient,” he reminded.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2020