ISLAMABAD: Pakistan nee­ded to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees on humanitarian grounds and enact domestic laws to become a signatory to the international conventions for being the largest host country of refugees, experts said at a panel discussion on Wednesday.

The discussion, titled ‘Afghan Refugees and Migrants: Humani­tarian Response in Pakistan’, was held on the third day of the 25th Sustainable Development Confe­rence, organised by the Sustain­a­ble Development Policy Institute.

Experts said that negligence in policy had invariably affected the Afghan refugees in terms of their identity recognition, income means and citizenship, causing serious damage to their psychological condition and leading to stress and depression.

Former senator Afrasiab Khattak said since partition, Pakistan had been actively hosting refugees from different countries, including India, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Experts say negligence in policy has invariably affected refugees, leading to stress and depression

Pakistan strongly needed legislation at a domestic forum to fill the legal vacuum created by the Afghan refugees’ issue, he said and suggested that repatriation, relocation and absorption were the factors that should be focused on in policymaking.

“The dilemma is that new terms like temporarily displaced persons (TDPs) and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been introduced and they are not recognised as refugees,” he said.

The media needed to play an active role in voicing the Afghan refugees’ miseries, he said, adding that this nation was in exile and demanded that it should be looked at on humanitarian grounds.

The government should revise its Afghan policy for refugees to overcome their miseries, he added.

Ayesha Khan, country director of Hashoo Foundation, said that according to a report of the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, 90pc of Afghan refugees were hosted by Pakistan and Iran.

She said the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees, established in 2012, was a proactive step taken by the global community to help Afghan refugees and host countries.

Another speaker, Safiya Aftab, stressed the need for formulating a domestic policy to cater to the basic needs of health, education and sustenance for refugees.

Many undocumented refugees had started to enter the internal economy, mainly as low-income migrant households, she said, adding that Pakistan designed an effective policy to document these existing issues. Apart from granting some medical, transit and substantial visas on humanitarian grounds, a strong policy would surely ensure the sustenance needs of refugees, she said.

‘Reforms must to achieve SDGs’

At another panel discussion, prime minister’s aide Rana Ihsan Afzal said the government would have to introduce drastic reforms in various sectors to create fiscal space for financing the sustainable development goals (SDGs) agenda.

He highlighted the need to increase the tax-to-GDP ratio from 8.5 per cent to 15pc, raise tax revenues and streamline loss-making state-owned enterprises.

He said the country’s crop yields were very low and must be brought on a par with international standards to minimise the import pressure on the country.

Former Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq said: “We also need to create fiscal space as much as possible to promote SDGs agenda.” She underlined that the challenge of limited financing resources is one of the biggest impediments to achieving SDGs.

Priyantha Rathnayake, Sri Lanka’s deputy secretary to the treasury, said the domestic resources of developing countries were insufficient to finance the SDGs agenda and urged the international development partners to come forward with emergency funding like those mobilised during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

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