Afghan refugees

Published July 7, 2021

AS Afghanistan dives into the great unknown with the departure of foreign forces and the government in Kabul unable to stop the Afghan Taliban’s onslaught, the question of refugees fleeing the conflict needs attention. This is especially so for Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Pakistan. As it is, Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghans seeking refuge on its soil for the past four decades, as stability has eluded this country’s western neighbour. While, with the prospects of Pakhtun domination in Afghanistan, it cannot be said with certainty if it is Pakistan that will face a new refugee wave in the event that the government in Kabul collapses, the state must plan for all contingencies. According to Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, Pakistan’s borders will not be opened for refugees. Instead, the country will follow the ‘Iranian model’, where refuge seekers will be housed in camps along the border.

Several factors must be considered where the question of Afghan refugees is concerned. While it may be Pakistan’s moral duty to provide shelter to those fleeing war and persecution — and indeed this country has tried its best to safely house Afghans over the past few decades — we must also take stock of our own situation. It will be difficult to accommodate thousands more Afghan refugees as we lack the financial resources, as well as infrastructure, to support a large refugee population. It is also true that terrorists may infiltrate the country in the garb of those seeking shelter, affecting the security paradigm. The practicality of the ‘Iranian model’ can be considered, where those fleeing war from Afghanistan are housed in safe buffer zones along the border. But more pertinent, the international community should play its due role in aiding states hosting refugees. In particular, those states that have played a part in destabilising Afghanistan, including the US and its Nato allies, must now give generously in order to provide safe havens as well as food and medical aid to Afghan civilians fleeing a renewed flare-up in their troubled homeland.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2021

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