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Pakistan to Celebrate Four Decades of Hospitality to Afghan Refugees

Reminiscent of Switzerland, a safe haven for refugees during World War II

Pakistan hosts the highest number of refugees worldwide- mostly Afghans

PKONWEB Report – Despite $230 billion economic losses and 70,000+ lost human lives in war on terror, Pakistan has been hosting millions of Afghans who left their never-ending war-ravaged home country for security and livelihood. Now Islamabad wants to celebrate 40 years of hospitality to millions of Afghan refugees on its soil.

Reminiscent of Switzerland, a safe haven for refugees during World War II, many independent observers think so. Yet the narrative and its internationalizing were pushed under the carpet for various reasons, and “Pakistan is a corrupt nation, with a dysfunctional state” found more traction in world media.

FLASH BACK: In late 70s and the 80s, the US-led and Pakistan-backed Afghan Jihad against Red Army (Soviets) produced some remarkable takeaways: The emergence of Russia from communist bloc (USSR); The fall of Berlin Wall and reunification of the two Germany- and this: the iconic picture (Sharbat Gula) that internationalized Afghanistan (graveyard of empires) with assured place in modern history.

Afghan girl Sharbat Gula in early 80s (left) and later (right).

The Panian camp in Haripur established four decades ago (in 1980s) has been a microcosm Afghanistan across the border. Around 65,000 Afghan refugees still live here. Over the years, their numbers had grown as terrorism and extremism spread in Afghanistan and into Pakistan, forcing thousands of Afghans to trek eastward and cross the border. Their numbers peaked to almost 2.5 million and stayed at that level for over a decade- inside Pakistan’s major cities, specially Karachi port city.

This pic (below) is also a poster sans Sharbat Gula. Their fault? The prestigious National Geographics photographer never heard about them (sort of). Pakistan hosts them still until peace returns in their country and in the region.

Pakistan became the only country which integrated the Afghan refugees into the mainstream population. Also, Pakistan is the biggest host country of refugees in the world still, and going.

At the end of 2015, the UNHCR estimated there were approximately
2.7 million Afghan refugees abroad, primarily in Pakistan and Iran, and additional 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan.
. Violence has been the major factor in involuntary population movements among Afghans.

Watson Institute: Costs of War

Few years ago, these refugees started going back- with Islamabad help. But there are around 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees and 0.84 million of them are cardholders in Pakistan. The media and the society never complained, nor tried to push them back forcefully just as Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina government attempted with Rohingyas a few times.

Minister for SAFRON Shehryar Afridi on Friday therefore announced that Pakistan will celebrate 2019 as the year of hospitality offered to the Afghan refugees living in the country for the last 40 years. Well said and well timed.

A quarter of refugees worldwide are Afghan, and the vast majority live in Pakistan and Iran.

Addressing the participants of a ceremony held at the Afghan refugee camp at Panian, the minister said, in an era when even developed nations are refusing to accept a single boat of migrants, Pakistan is hosting millions of refugees. True.

“Wealthy nations around the world have utterly failed to do their fair share for people who have been forced to flee their homes, and should be doing much more to provide funding, as well as resettlement opportunities,” said
Shea of Amnesty International.

The lawmaker and minister said relationship between Afghan refugees and the Pakistani nation is unprecedented. “Despite economic crunch and security threats, Pakistan has shared its bread and butter with their Afghan brothers.”

Afridi added: “We have a shared culture and a shared history. Migration is Sunnah,” he said. “Pakistan is spending heavily on Afghan refugees despite financial crunch and economic downslide. However, the world has backtracked on its commitment on supporting Afghan refugees,” he added.

Haibat Shah, a leader of Afghan refugees, said it’s an irony that they are refugees both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “We are not being accepted back in Afghanistan. We have an identity crisis and we are aliens everywhere. When we are arrested, our bail is not allowed.”

An Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan: Pakistan in 2017 hosted a total refugee population of 1,505,525 (documented). The number of undocumented Afghan refugees in the region remains unknown.

A huge community of Afghan refugees (about 3 million) is also hosted by Iran- Afghanistan’s southern and southwestern border- pushed decades back with the start (second time) of a US-led never-ending war in that resource-rich ‘real estate’ from October 2001 post 9/11. Out of the 3 million,
an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million of those refugees are without legal status, rights groups said.

Lately, the US-Iran tensions have put spotlight again on this community. Where to go, many have been asking.

Assif Faizi, an Afghan refugee who lives in Shahr Rey near Tehran, told VOA that Afghans are treated as second-class citizens in the country.

“My son faces discrimination every day at school, not only from other students but also from teachers and other school staff,” Faizi said.

“They just allow us to breathe here. We are ready to leave Iran if we are offered another destination,” he told VOA.

Iran Criticized for Threat to Deport Afghan Refugees

Recent comments by a senior Iranian official about the possibility of deporting Afghan refugees living in the country has drawn widespread criticism from governments and rights groups.

Rights groups say, according to international law, Iran cannot expel refugees to a place where their lives or freedoms would be in danger.

“There are some countries that always support and cooperate with Afghanistan. So, if all refugees are expelled [from Iran] at once, these countries will act accordingly,” Afghan officials told VOA News.

‘Some countries’ include Pakistan and Turkey, an observer said.

Some experts say that if Iran put pressure on the Afghan refugees to leave the country, Turkey most likely would be their next destination.

Iran hosts about 3 million Afghan refugees who have fled violence and war in their country. An estimated 1.5 million to 2 million of those refugees are without legal status, rights groups said.