‘Majority of Afghan refugees unregistered’
By Mohammad Zafar
QUETTA: A majority of Afghan refugees have not got themselves registered out of fear that they would be forcefully repatriated from Balochistan, Major Farzand Ali, the Afghan Refugees Organisation Balochistan director operations, said on Wednesday.
Addressing a workshop, he said there was no legislation to deal with refugees who had been residing in Pakistan for the past three decades.
According to UNHCR, about 3.5 million Afghan refugees are registered and there are uncountable refugees who are still unregistered. The workshop titled ‘Sensitisation and Capacity Building Media’ was held at Quetta Club.
Participants deliberated upon an agreement inked between the government of Pakistan and UNHCR allowing 1.7 million Afghan refugees to continue sheltering in the country until the end of 2012.
Pakistan has allowed 150,000 unskilled Afghan refugees to prolong their stay in the country through an agreement with Afghanistan and UNHCR.
“A population verification survey under Management and Repatriation Strategy for Afghan Refugees (MRSAR) was recently conducted in three districts – Quetta, Pishin and Qila Abdullah. But we are yet to receive any feedback on what are the basic requirements of Afghan refugees living here,” Ali said.
Under MRSAR, those refugees who have invested more than Rs 5 million in productive business should be allowed to continue their business and may be given work permits for the specific period of time.
“The well-off refugees have already obtained National Identity Cards and settled in urban slums. Therefore, hardly anyone will show interest in investment,” Ali said.
He said there were 150 unfrequented routes along the Pak-Afghan border where keeping a strict check on cross-border movement was impossible. “That is why, often overwhelming majority of the refugees return after volunteer repatriation to their hometowns.”
Over one million refugees repatriated in 2004. Of then, 80 percent returned to Pakistan due to the law and order situation in their country.
“I have been dealing with Afghan refugees for the past three years and observed that no one knows the exact figure of unregistered refugees. There is a need for serious legislation to deal with the refugees because despite the lapse of three decades nothing has been done,” he said.
Ali said Pakistan should now adopt a realistic approach because it would be “very difficult to repatriate these refugees soon since situation of their country is disturbed”.
Participants were told that task forces at district level under the leadership of deputy commissioners were set up to register Afghan refugees.
UNHCR Associate Protection Officer Arbab Mohammad Zahir said MRSAR meant to legalise the stay of Afghan refugees so they could easily earn their livelihood. He agreed that most of the refugees returned back to Pakistan.
The Pakistan Labour Federation’s Sultan Muhammad Khan, while defending the stay of Afghan refugees, said that many refugees from India and Iran had also taken shelter in Pakistan and had become citizens. Therefore, all refugees shall be treated equally, he added.
Saifullah Chaudhry of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said that ILO was working on “decent work deficits of workers from Afghan refugees and host communities”.