Kindness needed

Published June 20, 2024

TODAY, on World Refugee Day, we pause to reflect on the many challenges faced by refugees across the globe. From Syria to Myanmar, South Sudan to Venezuela, millions have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, persecution, and natural disasters.

Syria remains the country with the highest number of forcibly displaced people, with 13.8m individuals uprooted both within and outside its borders. The atrocities in the Gaza Strip have also led to the displacement of approximately 1.7m people — 75pc of the population — while escalating violence in Myanmar has resulted in over 2.6m internally displaced persons, mostly Rohingya Muslims. Conflicts in Sudan and Congo, too, have contributed to the alarming global displacement figures.

Focusing on Pakistan, we see the complexities of hosting large refugee populations. For over four decades, we have provided sanctuary to Afghans, the largest refugee population globally. According to UNHCR, over 6.4m Afghans were hosted in 108 countries last year, with Pakistan alone providing refuge to nearly 2m. The government puts the total at nearly 4m.

In October 2023, the government began the process of repatriating Afghan refugees, sparking much debate. While Pakistan has shown immense generosity, hosting millions of refugees for decades has placed a considerable financial burden on the country. The strain on resources, coupled with valid security concerns, underscore the intricacies of the issue. The threat of militants crossing borders and the challenges of integrating a large refugee population into local communities cannot be ignored.

However, the situation must be handled delicately. Expulsion by force is not the solution. The refugees deserve time, dignified treatment and a path to return. The Taliban takeover of Kabul in 2021 forced more Afghans to flee, exacerbating the crisis. And while Pakistan must do its part, Western powers, especially those who withdrew their troops from Afghanistan, bear a moral responsibility. These nations must fulfil their pledge to the many Afghans who assisted them during years of conflict. The global community must ensure they are not abandoned.

This year’s World Refugee Day theme — solidarity with refugees — envisions a world where refugees are welcomed. This includes keeping our borders accessible, acknowledging their contributions, and addressing the hurdles they face.

It also involves finding long-term solutions to their struggles, such as ending conflicts to facilitate safe returns, and ensuring there are opportunities for them to flourish where they have taken up sanctuary. This requires international cooperation and providing host countries with the resources needed to support these vulnerable populations.

The role of organisations like the UNHCR in facilitating this process is crucial. Ultimately, solidarity comes from empathy and compassion. After all, no one willingly abandons their homes unless their very survival is at stake.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2024

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