A refugee is a person fleeing her/his country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion. Close to 4 million Afghani refugees left their country as a result of major wars or persecution. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan makes the first wave of internal displacement and refugee flow from Afghanistan to neighboring Pakistan and Iran which began providing shelter to Afghans. Most Afghan refugees, around 75 percent, are in Pakistan. Recently due to security concern as well as increasing political tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, there has been an influx of refugees returning to Afghanistan. The Afghan exodus from Pakistan in the second half of 2016 amounts to the one of the world’s largest unlawful forced return in recent years.
Despite being a developing country Pakistan has hosted approximately 2.5 million Afghani refugees and have carried the biggest burden of absorbing refugees inside its borders. Since 2015, Afghan refugees in Pakistan have encountered serious harassment, hostility, and pressure to return to Afghanistan. There is a need for a multilayered approach to solving the crisis. There are 4 steps to be immediately taken to address the burning issue of the Afghani refugee crisis. First, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s Regional Refugee & Resilience plan should be a platform for securing funds to assist host countries in providing refugees with basic human needs. Second, the existing refugee Resettlement program should be expanded through the United Nations. Developing countries should expand the number of refugees based on their economic abilities. Third, Pakistan government should extend refugees registration cards by 2020. Fourth, the UNHCR should stop involuntary refugee return and challenge any further efforts by Pakistan to force Afghan refugees.
War has been the greatest enemy of Afghans who have witnessed injustice and instability in the region with the increasing number of conflicts that have been fought on their soil. Since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, repatriation efforts allowed nearly 6 million However, there are approximately 2.5 million Afghans who remain in Pakistan. Some of the Afghans opened restaurants and small-scale businesses in Pakistan. And now, they are now forced to leave from a country that had sheltered their family for many years and are considered traitors and terrorists. These Afghans are forced to leave everything behind. The Pakistani deportation threat coerced over 600,000 Afghans at the beginning of 2016 including 365,000 registered refugees, to face danger and destitution back in Afghanistan.
The recent tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan governments worsened as Pakistan’s government-linked Afghan refugees to bombings and other violence perpetrated by the Pakistani Taliban and its allies leading to seal all border crossings and issuing shoot on sight orders for anyone attempting to cross the border. The situation further deteriorated after UNHCR cut down the funding for refugees resulting in a significant economic burden on Pakistan. The government has claimed that the country does not have adequate infrastructure to support the remaining afghans refugees and also prevent any further infiltration of terrorism and non-state actors into Pakistan. The refugees were forced to return to Afghanistan including those who were properly registered refugees. The UNHCR has supported Pakistan decision of repatriating Afghanis by cutting down the cash grant for refugees to return to their country.
UNHCR’s Regional Refugee & Resilience should plan a platform for securing funds to assist host country in providing refugees with basic human needs. The UNHCR should adopt a list of programs ensuring that Afghani refugees are provided with basic human rights: education should be made available to all with child protection or psychosocial support programs; food should be provided to all refugees; health facilitation support should be available; transitional shelter camps should be replaced with more comfort to attend the refugees’ needs.
The existing refugee resettlement program should be expanded through the United Nations. An open-door resettlement policy would save thousands of lives and improve the life prospects of million more instead of sending them to torn countries where they would seek out to alternate communities like ISIS, to provide them with basic needs. Refugees returning to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, ill-treatment or a threat to life would be attracted to ISI message. Terrorist groups often offer an opportunity to direct their anger towards what is framed as common enemy evil and the westerns leading to another crisis around the world. An open-door policy would finally provide concrete benefits to these people and represent a morally superior alternative to forcing refugees to remain in dangerous camps or sending them back to deadly conflict zones. Though resettlement would cost real money but far less than further military intervention and would pale in comparison to the price that developed countries would have to pay to fight the number refugees joining the ISIS.
Pakistani government should extend refugees registration cards until 2020 to avoid triggering a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan by forcing back hundreds of thousands more refugees, Pakistan should reverse course and protect Afghans until it is safe for them to go home. Afghanistan’s donors should generously support Pakistan and aid agencies assisting Afghans in Pakistan and should press the government to end its abuses and threats.
The UNHCR should stop involuntary refugee return and challenge any further efforts by Pakistan to force Afghan refugees. The UNHCR is promoting the exodus by enhancing its “voluntary repatriation” program and failing to publicly call for an end to coercive practices. The UN and international donors should press Pakistan to end the abuses, protect the remaining 1.1 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and allow refugees among the other estimated 750,000 unregistered Afghans there to seek protection
To avoid triggering a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan by forcing back hundreds of thousands more refugees, Pakistan should reverse course and protect Afghans until it is safe for them to go home. Afghanistan’s donors should generously support Pakistan and aid agencies assisting Afghans in Pakistan by pressing the government to end its abuses and threats. The government should extend refugees’ registration cards until at least March 2019. And the UN refugee agency should stop supporting involuntary refugee return and unequivocally publicly challenge any further efforts by Pakistan to force out Afghan refugees.
Maria Ali, an alumna of Seton Hall School of Diplomacy and International Relations, was responsible for collecting data and research for this blog. The time frame was between March and April 2017, resulting in a policy memo written by Ali in April of 2017. This blog post was written by Patricia Zanini Graca. Patricia is a second-year graduate student at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Patricia graduated in Business Administration and she holds an MBA in Business and Marketing. Patricia is the Executive Editor at the Journal of Diplomacy, a UN Digital Representative at the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, an Abd El-Kader Fellow and the Director of International Affairs at the Graduate Diplomacy Council. She specializes in International Organizations and Global Negotiations & Conflict Management.