Pakistan’s 40 Golden Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees

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SHEHRYAR KHAN AFRIDI
The world today is at crossroads of its history as humanity faces gigantic challenges. The biggest challenge for the world is unresolved conflicts and human displacement due to these wars. According to Dina Nayeri, it is the obligation of every person born in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks. But unfortunately, lack of empathy, consideration and generosity towards immigrants and refugees is on the rise. Even a boat of immigrants can change political dynamics of developed nations. No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land. In this backdrop, Pakistan stands tall and decorous being among a few nations in the world as we have provided generous shelters and homes to over four million Afghan refugees for forty long years. And the world has come to our help too. But much more needs to be done. There are states that remain indifferent to the refugee crisis too. Unfortunately, the developed world needs to be sensitized on refugee crisis. Elections in the developed world are fought on vows of anti-immigrants laws and fences are being erected to isolate immigrants. Hence, in this age of technology and development, refugees and immigrants are dying due to hunger, epidemic and dislocation. And there are a few who care. While the developed nations have GDPs of trillions of dollars, it is a pity that 85 percent of the refugees are being hosted by developing nations. The developed world needs to come forward and share the burden in compliance of the UN conventions on refugees. While the world has been witnessing anti-immigrant laws, public taunts, slurs and attacks against immigrants, not a single incident of hate crime against immigrants has ever been registered in Pakistan over the past 40 years of hosting Afghan refugees. Pakistan is observing 40th anniversary of hosting Afghan refugees this year. In this regard, an International Conference is being held in Islamabad on 17-18 February, 2020. Prime Minister Imran Khan would be welcoming distinguishing guests including United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Afghan Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah, UN High Commissioner for Afghan Refugees Mr Filippo Grandi, US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, Turkish Minister for Interior Süleyman Soylu and many others. Pakistan’s contributions towards humanity can be gauged by the fact that we have integrated 68 percent of Afghan refugees with our populace in line with the recommendations set by the United Nations. Only 32 percent of refugees are in camps. All refugees are enjoying all the facilities provided to common Pakistanis. Pakistan is serving the Afghan refugees despite the fact that Pakistan is not a signatory to the 1951 and the 1967 United Nations Conventions and Protocols on Refugees. We have never faltered on our commitment on serving the suffering humanity. Pakistan has accommodated all the phases of influx of refugees that has been come coming regularly since 1980. This has been the cornerstone of our policy to accommodate all the refugees that are in need and who seek help. Over the period of 40 years, we have developed good practices models of hosting refugees and immigrants that can be replicated by others within the ambit of humanitarianism. Other than Afghan refugees, we are also hosting two million Bengalis, Beharis, Rohingyas, Iranians, Arabs, Africans and other communities who were expatriated shelter-less and needed shelter.
Pakistan, despite its meager resources, has provided protection, food, shelter and other necessities with excellent camp management skills to the immigrants and refugees and adhered to the highest standards of hospitality. It is high time that responsibility and burden sharing is realised by the world stakeholders and acted upon in the best interest of humanity. We have a legal and moral obligation to protect people fleeing bombs, bullets and tyrants, and throughout history those people have enriched our society. Since taking over the responsibility as Minister of State for SAFRON, I have personally visited camps of Afghan refugees. I also visited Afghan refugees living outside camps across country. I have consistently met with stakeholders including United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and reinforced Pakistan’s commitment towards the cause. I have also visited Afghanistan and engaged with the stakeholders. I also plan to visit Turkey and Iran who also have made tremendous contributions towards refugees. We also hosted Quadripartite and Tripartite conferences on Afghan refugees after a lull of two years. The UN recently hosted Global Refugees Forum where Prime Minister Imran Khan and other dignitaries attended. We need to tell the world to address conflicts and causes that are forcing people to migrate from their homes and homelands. While the refugee count worldwide has crossed 700 million figure, there are fears that new exodus is likely due to new regional and global conflicts. In India, there are disturbing reports of oppression and targeting of minorities by Hindu supremacist regime and Muslims, Christians and Dalits are being lynched by mobsters led by terrorists from banned outfit Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The world may have to soon cater to more refugees as Indian government has passed black laws of National Register of Citizens to strip Muslim and Christian minorities of their citizenship right. Another law is enacted to award citizenship right to Hindus from neighbouring countries under and Citizenship Amendment Act. The Indian government has laid down the base for mass displacement by passing these two controversial laws of NRC and CAA rendering millions of minorities as stateless. These stateless people would either be persecuted or they would be forced to leave India. The world remains silent over this state oppression against minorities in India which may encourage the extremist regime and the world may have to deal with new refugee crisis. India already has unilaterally annexed the state of Jammu and Kashmir despite the fact that the Kashmir dispute is at United Nations agenda since 1948 and India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states are party to the conflict. Line of Control (LoC) between Pakistan and India is hot these days as Indian army is shelling into Pakistan to shift world focus from its decision to annex Kashmir. The hostility at the LoC may trigger an allout war between the two nuclear-capable states. Any nuclear conflict may engulf the world with calamity. The world needs to take refugees assistance seriously as UNHCR is facing the pressure too due to its financial constraints. Hosting of refugees must be a shared and collective responsibility as third world states like Pakistan, Turkey and Iran are already doing a lot in hosting the refugees. Refugee hosting countries need to adopt solution-oriented approach to mitigate the sufferings of refugees and evolve joint strategies to attract attention of the prosperous world. Together we can provide help and bring smiles back to the faces of the refugees, displaced and shelterless. —Author of this article is Minister for Ministry of Narcotics Control and SAFRON

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