PM Shehbaz urges collective responsibility, int’l recognition of Afghan refugee ‘burden’

Published July 9, 2024
UN High Commissioner for Refugees called on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Islamabad on July 9, 2024. — PID
UN High Commissioner for Refugees called on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Islamabad on July 9, 2024. — PID

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday urged the international community to recognise the “burden of Afghan refugees” being shouldered by Pakistan and demonstrate “collective responsibility” to deal with the issue, a statement from the PM’s office said.

His remarks came during a meeting with the Commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, at the Prime Minister’s House.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) arrived in Pakistan on Sunday on a three-day visit, his first visit since the caretaker government announced a repatriation plan of what it called “undocumented aliens” in November last year.

“The prime minister stressed that the international community must recognize the burden being shouldered by Pakistan while hosting such a large refugee population, and demonstrate collective responsibility,” the statement said.

PM Shehbaz noted that despite numerous challenges, Pakistan had hosted Afghan refugees with exemplary respect and dignity, the statement added.

He sought UNHCR’s support in mobilizing adequate resources to supplement Pakistan’s efforts in this regard, urging the global refugee agency to play its role in coming up with durable solutions to address the situation of Afghan refugees, including through safe and dignified return and reintegration in their homeland, as well as third-country relocation.

While reaffirming Pakistan’s commitment to addressing the protection and safety needs of people in vulnerable situations, PM Shehbaz emphasised that the international community needed to be mindful of the socio-economic challenges and security threats that Pakistan was facing.

“The UN High Commissioner expressed gratitude for Pakistan’s generosity and hospitality in hosting millions of Afghan refugees for the past many decades and assured that UNHCR would continue to work closely with Pakistan to fulfill the basic needs of the Afghan refugees,” the statement added.

Pakistan launched the first round of repatriation of what it called “undocumented aliens” in November last year.

No official data has been released as to how many of the estimated 1.7m undocumented Afghans have left for their country since November 2023, though the figure likely fell hugely short of what is now being considered a grossly exaggerated number.

But according to informed sources, the total number of undocumented Afghans who have returned to Afghanistan via Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in the first round stands at around the half million-mark.

UNHCR to hold dialogue on refugees

A day prior, Grandi met with Pakistan’s Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron), Amir Muqam, and said that UNHCR would organize a global dialogue, most likely in October, to discuss refugee-related issues, a statement the Safron ministry’s statement.

“Pakistan would be specially invited at this occasion,” the UNHCR chief said, per the statement. He expressed the hope that the event will create a new dimension and avenues for the support of refugees across the globe.

Philippa Candler, UNHCR’s representative in Pakistan, and several other officials of the UN refugee agency attended the meeting.

“Currently, there are 1.45 million registered Afghan citizens card holders and this does not include a great number of unregistered Afghan refugees and other nationals,” Federal minister Muqam said.

He added that it was a “matter of concern” that there was a decline in support for Afghan refugees and development funds for their hosting areas in Pakistan.

“We need exclusive, generous and sustainable interventions,” he said.

Grandi lauded the people of Pakistan and the government for hosting Afghan refugees for over four decades.

Meeting with FM Dar

Grandi on Monday also called on Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar and appreciated Pakistan’s efforts and contributions in hosting Afghan refugees for decades, according to a statement by the foreign ministry.

He briefed Dar, who is also the foreign minister, on UNHCR’s ongoing projects and emphasized the importance of sustained engagement and cooperation between Pakistan and the UNHCR.

On his part, Dar underscored that new humanitarian situations emerging around the world must not divert global attention away from the needs of millions of Afghans.

Dar also underlined the need for continued demonstration of international solidarity and faithful adherence to the principle of international responsibility and burden-sharing.

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