Afghan Refugees in Pakistan Four Decades of Hospitality
Islamabad (VOM). : The Centre for Afghanistan, Middle East and Africa (CAMEA) at the Institute of Strategic Studies (ISSI) hosted a webinar on “Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: Four Decades of Hospitality.” The webinar was moderated by Ms. Amina Khan, Director CAMEA. The speakers at the webinar included Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General ISSI, Ms. Nargis Nehan, an Afghan Politician, Mr. Saleem Khan, Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees, SAFRON, Mr. Qaisar Khan Afridi, Spokesperson UNHCR Pakistan, Ms. Nasria Pashtun, ALIGHT Pakistan, Program Coordinator for Afghanistan and Mr. Tamim Asey, Founder & Executive Chairman of the Institute of War and Peace Studies (IWPS), Kabul.
Ms. Amina Khan, Director CAMEA, while expressing her views stated that prolonged instability, which has all too often been marred by foreign invasions, civil wars, political and economic instability not to forget natural calamities have resulted in one of the world’s largest protracted refugee populations – the Afghan refugees. She went on to say that continued uncertainty has thus resulted in the continuous outflow of refugees. While Afghan refugees are present in more than 70 countries, 95 per cent are hosted by Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan and Iran together continue to host 90 per cent of registered Afghan refugees globally she stated. She further explained that although, a non-signatory to the Geneva Convention of Refugees, Pakistan has been home to Afghan refugees which at one point numbered five million, thus making Pakistan the second largest refugee hosting nation, hosting 21 per cent of the world’s refugees. Even after more than four decades of prolonged displacement, it is extremely unfortunate that the Afghan refugee crisis continues to linger on. Hosting refugees is a global responsibility, which has certainly not been equitably shared at all, she concluded.
Director General ISSI, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, while giving his remarks stated that the refugee problem is very pertinent but has been put on the backburner due to other emerging issues, and therefore not getting its fair share of attention. He further said that the refugees would like to be treated with respect and dignity and we must look at all aspects of how Afghan refugees have been treated by Pakistan for the last four decades. He further said that Pakistan has shared the burden with full commitment and the UNHCR has also helped in these endeavours.
Ms. Nargis Nehan was of the view that being a refugee is not a choice. She also thanked the people of Pakistan for their hospitality towards Afghan refugees and highlighted how Afghans in Pakistan have had the freedom of movement. Furthermore, they have had the opportunity to continue their education and have been given access to health care services, something which has not been provided to Afghan refugees in other countries. She said that the level of collaboration between the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan was impressive. On the conflict in Afghanistan she said that it has given rise to a young generation of Afghans who do not want to be in Afghanistan because they think they have no future there. It is imperative that there should be a political solution in Afghanistan that responds to the needs of the people and helps in the development of Afghanistan. Women can play a very important role in this regard, she concluded. “Being hopeful is more important than anything,” she said.
Mr. Saleem Khan, while shedding light on the subject, stated that 1.4million Afghan refugees are documented and 850000 are Afghan citizen card holders who are also being registered through the initiative taken by the government of Pakistan. He stated that in 2017 and 2018 unaccounted Afghans were also documented who are still living in the country. More than 700000 are still un documented and are in process of being documented. He said that we are very careful that refugees should be treated with care and respect and as a result of this policy; no unfortunate event has been witnessed. While talking about the role of SAFRON, he said that we are dealing with the various aspects of Afghan refugees which include health, food, community development, livelihood, repatriation, protection and education. While talking about the security of Afghan refugees he mentioned that we are very sensitive about the protection of the refugees and because of this very reason we started the Afghan Citizen Card project. He emphasized that we are open to treating these refugees in the best possible manner. He stressed that the Government of Pakistan is taking special efforts to facilitate them in the best possible way. The most viable option for us is that they go back to their own country voluntarily. The international community and organizations should engage with Afghanistan to develop a conducive environment for the individuals who are living in the country or who are willing to go back to their country.
Mr. Qaiser Afridi, while expressing his views stated that although Pakistan is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee convention and 1967 protocols, yet Pakistan has always helped Afghan refugees and generously hosted them for several decades. He also stated that if the refugees voluntarily want to go back to their homes, they can go back with security and dignity. He went on to say that displaced people face the same challenges everywhere and there is also an emphasis on youth empowerment.
Ms. Nasria Pashtun, highlighted the various problems faced by the refugees which include the issues pertaining to the opening of bank accounts, hurdles in buying property and the lack of jobs for highly educated Afghans. Among others, she said that many face poverty and there is also a lack of skill training for Afghan youth. The international community must address the various issues pertaining to Afghan refugees, she concluded.
Mr. Tamim Asey, while discussing the issue stated that Pakistan has hosted Afghan refugees for decades and that the experience of Afghan refugees in Pakistan has been very different. He went on to explain that Afghan refugees have come into Pakistan in four distinct phases and the influx of these four phases has brought political, military and economic challenges to Pakistan. He went on to say that Afghan refugees have also brought in remittances and Afghan entrepreneurs and skilled labour has also been an asset for Pakistan. He concluded by saying that it is also an opportunity for Pakistan as it can use humanitarian diplomacy to get global attention in this regard.
Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman Board of Governors, ISSI, in his concluding remarks stated that stated that the issue of refugees has been capturing the attention of the international community since several decades. He further said that Pakistan has been generously hosting Afghan refugees since the past few decades and the international community must acknowledge that, he concluded.