Explosive Afghan refugee situation
THE interim government of Afghanistan is not inclusive and; its approach to women issues continue to be too wanting.
This has led the US and its rich friends to continue to deny the war- torn country of even its legitimate financial resources amounting to a frozen over $9.5 billion.
As a result, the Afghan people are facing a dire situation—shortages of food, medicine and other essentials — forcing many Afghans to flee their country to escape hunger and seeming persecution thus creating an explosive refugee problem for the neighbouring countries.
Ominously, meanwhile the Afghan Taliban, the new rulers in Kabul have warned the world of even direr consequences in case the Afghan people are continued to be denied international help to alleviate its escalating humanitarian sufferings. The evolving situation in Afghanistan does not seem promising.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has already asked Pakistan to accept the new influx of refugees from Afghanistan, suggesting that if these refugees are sent back due to the lack of documentation, they may be at risk.
He said these refugees might be from minorities or they might have other issues. Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Mr. Grandi said the future was full of uncertainties and risks, but it was important that “we in the international community continue to engage with Taliban in order to go forward and save Afghanistan and the region from disaster”.
He said there had been no major refugee outflow but some Afghans had come to Pakistan, and they might have specific needs.
He said he fully understood the position of Pakistan which had so many refugees for the past 40 years. Mr. Grandi said Pakistan was very careful about refugees and wanted to be very cautious to check who was entering the country.
He claimed that the security situation in Afghanistan was improving and UNHCR would be able to scale up humanitarian assistance if the organisation was adequately supported and resourced. “The security situation has improved, but we remain concerned about the terrorist threat.
We hope the new administration (in Kabul) is united and that they do not have divisions among themselves.
Otherwise, it will be a factor of destabilisation,” he warned. Mr. Grandi said the international community should find ways to support the functioning of Afghanistan state and its institutions.
“If the state ceases to function, it will provoke a crisis much bigger than the humanitarian crisis.
UNHCR has not witnessed a large outflow of refugees yet but if the state collapses, a lot of people will seek refuge in other countries. Therefore, it is important to prevent that situation,” he emphasised.
Mr. Grandi said that during his meetings with government officials in Islamabad, he emphasised that “we have to do everything possible inside Afghanistan to avoid the collapse of the country” and added that the international community should react quickly to support UNHCR in order to prevent any refugee crisis.
He said there was international realisation that Afghanistan could not be left on its own, or could not be abandoned, adding that the situation was very different from the 1990s when Afghanistan was very much left on its own.
“Now there is a realisation that leaving it on its own will spell a disaster, first of all for Afghans, then for neighbours and then for the region and beyond,” he added.
None of Afghanistan’s neighbours is prepared to take in Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons despite the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) warning that 97% of Afghanistan’s population is at risk of poverty and starvation.
Last month, a huge number of Afghans, fearing Taliban repression, thronged the Spin Boldak border with Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province.
However, the Pakistani and Taliban authorities were unwilling to allow them safe passage even though a humanitarian crisis was in the offing.
Instead, the Pakistani government suggested that United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) should maintain camps on the Afghan side of the border for the new refugees.
Some media reports however claim that thousands of refugees have paid $90 a person to get over to the Pakistan side of the border.
The UN migration agency has reported a 40% increase in Afghans crossing over to Pakistan since May.
According to FM Shakil (Afghan refugee crisis poised to explode—published in Asia Times on 17 September 2021) an early investigation carried out by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Quetta chapter revealed that during daytime the border forces at Chaman permit the crossing of Afghans who carry valid Afghan identity documents or proof of registered refugee; in the night they accept other migrants or refugees who have no valid documents to present.
The HRCP report claimed that more than 20,000 Afghans have already entered Pakistan through the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing after the Taliban’s takeover – the number including prisoners released from the Afghan jails.
Those who managed to cross over to Pakistan have either used informal border crossings or bribed the Pakistani border force to allow entry.
Many members of the Hazara Shiite community also moved to Pakistan through the Chaman border.
Thousands of Hazara Afghans are staying in different imam bargah facilities and community halls at Hazara Town, Quetta.
Women refugees staying at Imambargah facilities told the HRCP that they had been government employees, serving in different departments in Afghanistan.
The Taliban collected information about them and their families from the official record and threatened them, saying they must leave or face execution. There was no other option, they said, except to leave and seek asylum in Pakistan.
Pakistan has officially announced that it will not host Afghan refugees anymore, as Islamabad for decades has been providing shelter to 1.4 million registered refugees and up to 2 million other displaced Afghan persons.
Media reports suggest that the European Commission plans to allocate 600 million euros to Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, to help cover the expenses generated by an influx of Afghans.
An additional 300 million euros in humanitarian assistance is earmarked for women and girls and other vulnerable groups.
The UN refugee agency estimated that over 550,000 more Afghans were displaced within the country from the beginning of the year until 10 August, including about 240,000 displaced since the withdrawal of coalition military forces began in May.
— The writer is veteran journalist and a former editor based in Islamabad.