ISLAMABAD: Amid the coronavirus epidemic, Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) Shehryar Khan Afridi drew the attention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) towards Afghan refugees, urging the world body in a letter to accelerate its relief efforts and provide food rations to the Afghan refugees living across Pakistan.
Pakistan is among the countries that are hosting large numbers of refugees. According to estimates, there are around 3.5 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, about 1.8m of whom are registered and 0.8m hold Proof of Registration cards.
The minister along with cricket superstar Shahid Afridi visited an Afghan refugee camp in the city of Kohat, 150km southwest of Islamabad, where they oversaw the distribution of ration, provided by the cricket star’s eponymous charity organisation, to nearly one thousand refugee families impacted by the ongoing lockdown.
“The Afghan refugees are our brothers and Pakistanis stand side by side with Afghan families in these testing times. The Afghan brothers should not be forgotten in these difficult times,” Mr Shahid tweeted in Urdu from his Twitter account.
According to a press release by the UNHCR, it has started dispatching core relief items to support Pakistan government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Distributes ration to 1,000 Afghan families with Shahid Afridi
The necessary relief items include “medical supplies and sanitation products such as sanitary clothes, soap and disinfectants”. These items “will be provided to health facilities in support of refugees and host communities in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab”, said the statement.
Four trucks carrying some of the many items left from UNHCR’s central warehouse in Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and some destined to Balochistan. More items are scheduled to be delivered next week.
“UNHCR is committed to supporting the government’s Covid-19 prevention and response measures,” said Iain Hall, UNHCR Deputy Representative in Pakistan.
“The UNHCR’s priority is to contribute to the overall effort to minimise the spread and impact of the virus,” he added further.
The agency committed to provide medical supplies and consumables including personal protective equipment (PPE), which “will be delivered to support the people of Pakistan and the Afghan refugees that they have so generously hosted for forty years”, he said.
The Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees (Ministry of Safron) and UNHCR’s NGO partners are amplifying the government’s messages and reminders based on WHO guidance on Covid-19 infection prevention and control, including self-hygiene and social distancing, according to a statement.
The Refugee Rights Network Pakistan (RRN) has also appreciated the efforts by Minister Safron Mr Shehryar and Mr Shahid’s foundation for helping the Afghan refugees in testing times.
“RRN Pakistan extends its gratitude to the minister and federal government for all its commitment for care and protection of Afghan refugees in Pakistan,” the statement said.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2020