Afghan Refugees Right To Stay In Pakistan May Expire
Afghan refugees in Pakistan wait for a decision on their fate as the government
PESHAWAR (IPS): “We aren’t happy here but cannot go back to our country because the situation there was extremely bad,” Ghareeb Gul, Afghan refugees told IPS.
Gul, 40, arrived in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the Pakistan’s four provinces, in 1979 when his country was invaded by Russian forces and settled in Kacha Garhi camp near Peshawar. The camp was demolished by local authorities forcing 50,000 refugees to seek shelter somewhere else.
For the past few years, he has lived in a mud-stone hut, selling vegetables but life then got harder after December 2014 when terrorists attacked the Army Public School and College in Peshawar killing about 150 people. This prompted the government to take numerous measures, including repatriation of Afghan refugees, to cope with the threat of more terrorism.
“Since then, the government is chasing those who are living here illegally,” he said.
The government of Pakistan is weighing a proposal to extend the stay of Afghan refugees until 2017. The government granted an extension of three years in 2012 which expires on Dec. 31 2015.
“Registered Afghan nationals are likely to be allowed to stay in Pakistan until December 2017 but those living illegally will be forced to return,” officials at the Ministry of State and Frontier Region (Safron), told IPS.
The Afghan refugees who have Proof of Registration (PoR) cards could be allowed stay in the country. So far Pakistan has given three extensions to the refugees and a fourth was in the pipeline.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government which hosts a bulk of the refugees due to its proximity with Afghanistan is opposed to their further stay.
“Afghanistan has become peaceful country now and the refugees should be sent home as soon as possible. The Afghans are involved in crimes, such as murder, kidnapping for ransom and thefts etc,” KP Information Minister Mushtaq Ahmed Ghani said.
Last month, the KP government wrote a letter to the federal government asking it to ensure that refugees go back by the end of 2015.
“That suggestion emerged after a meeting of the tripartite commission comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), granting a stay to refugees is unacceptable,” he told IPS.
Pakistan approved a National Action Plan against terrorism in December last year which also included the expulsion of all unregistered Afghans after the massacre at the Army Public School and College but the progress is next to zero in the face of government’s inability to hammer out a mechanism.
Most of the illegal refugees are immensely concerned about the government’s plan because they argue that there is no work back home.
“I went to Kabul and passed three months but returned to Peshawar because of economic reasons,” Malal Shah, a fruit-vendor says. Shah says it was difficult for him to earn for his 8-member family. “But here, police have become an albatross around our necks because we don’t have PoR cards,” he says.
Most of the Afghans are engaged in blue-collar jobs but are happy.
“We are happy because we can survive here. But in Afghanistan, the situation is extremely bad. There is no health, education and other facilities besides lack of work due to which we hesitate to go back,” Sufaid Hashimzada, a roadside cobbler says. He came to Pakistan in 1990 and never went back.
“We are receiving information from friends and relatives that we should stay here,” he said. “My two sons study here. If I went back, they would grow illiterate.”
Kabul as well as UNHCR is strictly opposed to the forced repatriation of refugees. The UN refugee agency has been urging Pakistan to send them through the voluntary repatriation programme under which only 57,000 of about 1.5 million registered Afghans have gone back to their country since January 2015.
Islamabad isn’t in a position to devise a policy for the repatriation of an estimated two million illegal refugees who didn’t have PoR cards.
A report by Human Rights Watch in November said that most of the Afghan refugees face harassment at the hands of the police in Pakistan. It maintains refugees were being forced to return to Afghanistan in the face of severe abuse, harassment by authorities and arrests. It said that the local authorities wanted to restrict Afghan refugees to camps which weren’t possible because they have no work to do there.
Gula Jan another refugee, who runs a three-wheeler vehicle said he was tired of the local police. “We don’t have driving license and other documents due to which police don’t allow us to drive. Most of the refugees are involved in petty jobs to earn livelihoods for their families,” he told IPS.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister Pervez Khattak is angry at the federal government for not taking urgent steps for the return of refugees. “The refugees have encroached on local economy. They don’t pay taxes and have occupied houses in every city which has created housing problems for the local residents,” he said.
Khattak appealed to the UNHCR and international community to take immediate steps for an early return of refugees. “They are involved in criminal activities and the police cannot trace them because most of them aren’t registered,” he said.
Afghan refugees are the main reason for rising terrorism in the country, especially Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he said.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has been asking Pakistan to extend the refugees’ stay for two more years.
(INTER PRESS SERVICE)