Pakistan has hosted the single largest concentration of refugees in the world, about 3.2 million Afghan refugees, for more than a decade. Despite their long stay, Pakistan's treatment of Afghan refugees has been exemplary. The international community cannot forget the plight of the Afghan refugees and the difficulties that Pakistan faced as a developing country.
There may be criticism of Afghan policies but this cannot be a reason for ignoring the legitimate needs of the Afghan refugees inside Pakistan. The refugees must continue to receive international assistance till they are rehabilitated in their homeland.
According to Asia Times, when a Pakistani official with the UNHCR asked the head of the Irish Delegation visiting the Afghan refugee camps that how many Afghan refugees Ireland would take if asked to do so and he replied "around a hundred". Pakistan because of its geographical contiguity to Afghanistan, has been recipient of a large number of Afghans fleeing from their war-torn and drought country. After playing host to the large number of refuges both Iranian 'There may be criticism of Afghan policies but this cannot be a reason for ignoring the legitimate needs of the Afghan refugees inside Pakistan'
and Pakistani governments now want these refugees to return back to their country. The economies of both the countries have been heavily burdened due to these refugees. This problem has further intensified as the result of reduced international assistance in the recent years.
The refugee problem is an issue of international concern. It needs global assistance on humanitarian grounds. It is not wise to expect Pakistan to deal with this alone. The current factfile has been documented to point out the difficulties being faced by the refugees and the host countries and current condition of Afghan refugees. This will help to have a better understanding of the Afghan refugees' case and may facilitate finding solutions for resolving the crisis.
UNHCR first established a presence in Pakistan in 1980 to protect and assist Afghan refugees fleeing their country in the wake of the 1979 Soviet invasion. It maintains offices in Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta to help Afghan refugees and offer protection and assistance to a limited number of non-Afghan refugees.
Today, UNHCR protects and assists 1.3 million Afghans and some 2,400 asylum seekers and refugees of various nationalities, mainly Somalis, Iraqis and Iranians. Their main objectives are:
· To facilitate the repatriation of Afghan refugees.
· Provide adequate protection and assistance to new arrivals.
· Continue providing limited community-based assistance in the refugee villages.
· To ensure a rapid and adequate protection response to the needs of a limited number of vulnerable Afghan refuges (women-at-risk and security cases) for whom resettlement may be the only viable solution.
· And, for non-Afghan refugees, to seek suitable durable solutions
outside Pakistan through repatriation or resettlement.
The unrelenting conflict and drought have precipitated large-scale displacement
inside Afghanistan. In the biggest influx since the early 1990s, more than
170,000 Afghans fled and sought assistance in Pakistan. Some 154,000 crossed
into North West Frontier Province and an estimated 18,000 into Baluchistan
province prior to or immediately after the closure of Pakistan's
Jalozai, an old camp 35-km southeast of Peshawar, became the de facto transit point for many of the new comers. In the course of three phases, UNHCR shifted 10,000 families from Jalozai to the nearby New Shamshatoo. The first major group was moved in October, the second in December and the last in January 2001.
New Shamshatoo is part of an old refugee camp that closed in 1994. The first section was opened in December 1999 to accommodate the growing number of refugees fleeing the escalating conflict in north-eastern Afghanistan. Over 95% of the present population arrived between September 2000-January 2001.
The camp has four new sections with a population of 60,000. Some 74% of the refugees are Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Hazaras and 26% are Pashtuns. They originate from Takhar; Baghlan, Parwan, Kapisa, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kabul and Lakhman provinces and the vast majority are women and children.
UNHCR, WFP, the Government of Pakistan and 10 international and local NGOs have combined efforts to meet the shelter, food, water and sanitation, health and education needs of the new refugees. Co-operation and teamwork were key principles to developing what has, in matter of few short months, become a stable, well-established camp.
Health Care: All refugees living in the refugee villages have access to basic
preventive, promotive and curative health services, including mother/child
health care, immunisation, and reproductive health. Health care is provided
through 118 Health Units supported by a network of 6,403 community health
workers and 4,711 female health workers. Immunisation coverage
Education: Some 124,000 children benefited from primary school education
in 361UNHCR-funded schools, of whom 28.5% were girls. This represented a 2%
increase in enrolment as compared to 1999. These schools provide primary education
to approximately one third of all school age children in the villages. All
the children in these schools received school
Water: While the objective was to supply 25 litres of water per day per person, the refugees received on average 15-20 litters per day per person due to the drought and the declining water table, as well as the frequent breakdowns of the water distribution system. In Baluchistan, a refugee village consolidation programme was implemented to ensure a more efficient use of resources, focusing activities on areas where water was available. Refugee families were encouraged to relocate and were provided with transport. Health and education facilities in the relocation areas were improved/enlarged as required. 'In Baluchistan, a refugee village consolidation programme was implemented to ensure a more efficient use of resources, focusing activities on areas where water was available'
Community Development: Community structures-male and female committees- for
health, water, sanitation and education were set up in New Shamshatoo to ensure
that new arrivals were involved in the management of all relief operations,
leading to enhanced self-reliance in the future. Gender equity and increased
awareness of rights and needs of women and children,
Elsewhere more emphasis was put on the active involvement of the refugee
community in the management of refugee villages in order to achieve more self-reliance.
Sectoral male and female committees formed the link between the refugee population
and the operating agencies. Regular meetings took place with the different
committees to ensure that input of refugees was
Pakistan is host to an estimated 2 million Afghan refugees, 1.2 million of whom live in 203 villages grouped into 127 key refugee clusters. 105 in North West Frontier Province, 21 in Baluchistan and 1 in Punjab.
UNHCR Pakistan at a glance
· 83% live in NWFP, 13% in Baluchistan and 4% in Punjab.
· 95% are Pashto-speaking, 5% are Dari, Baluchi, or other minority groups.
· 25.4% women, 51.6% children (52% female) and 24% men.
· 2,6 m Afghan refugees repatriated home since 1990, 75,000 returned
home in 2000.
· 2,400 non-Afghan refugees consisting of Somali (44%), Iraqi (27%) Iranians (23%) and Other (6%) living in urban areas, mainly Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Karachi, are fully assisted by UNHCR, pending the identification of durable solution for their cases.
· 4,867 refugees were resettled in third countries in 2000, 3,159 Afghans and 1,706 others.
· According to the Government of Pakistan some 2 million Afghans reside outside designated refugee areas mainly in the major urban centres of Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Quetta.
· UNHCR spends more than 37% of its budget on basic education. In 2000, 124,500 Afghan students attended 361 UNHCR-funded schools, of whom 35,400 were girls (28.5%). This represents a 2% increase in enrolment as compared to 1999.
· Budget for 2001 - $ 18.4 m
"20 years after the 1979 Soviet invasion in support of the communist regime in Afghanistan, and 10 years after the withdrawal of the last Soviet soldier in 1989, Afghanistan is still a country in which an armed conflict over power between opposing political factions continues. Afghanistan has in the process been devastated, producing the world's largest ever-single refugee caseload, at times as high as 6.2 million persons.
"Nevertheless, by 1 January 1999 - a decade after repatriation to Afghanistan began - a total of 4.2 million Afghan refugees had returned home. Of these, well over 3 million have either been
assisted by UNHCR (2.6 million) or individually counted while crossing the border with their household belongings. Repatriation peaked in 1992, after the communist regime finally fell, with 1.6 million refugees returning home from Pakistan and Iran in the space of 8 months. Throughout the following years - while a bitter struggle over power between the various mujahedeen groups ensued - refugees have been returning in large numbers, mainly to safe rural areas of Afghanistan. In 1998, UNHCR assisted about 107,000 refugees to return to Afghanistan, of whom 93,000 returned from Pakistan and 14,000 from Iran. 'Repatriation peaked in 1992, after the communist regime finally fell, with 1.6 million refugees returning home from Pakistan and Iran in the space of 8 months'
"In late 1997, UNHCR instituted a new strategy known as targeted group repatriation, from Pakistan, which runs parallel to the continuing standard repatriation assistance (transportation assistance, grants of cash and wheat) for individual families returning home to Afghanistan. The new scheme involves identifying refugee groups in Pakistan (sometimes from a single village, sometimes an entire district) who are keen to return home to relatively peaceful areas, but who are prevented from doing so by specific obstacles such as mines, destroyed houses, lack of irrigation systems and employment opportunities. Problems are evaluated and UNHCR, together with other UN agencies and NGOs, then designs a reintegration assistance package for a particular group to overcome their obstacles in returning. Feedback from refugees was very positive, and by 1 November 1998 a total of 28 convoys had repatriated 16,462 refugees from 16 different groups. Many more groups had expressed interest in returning under this scheme, when the withdrawal of UN international staff and a lack of funds for UNHCR's programmes in Afghanistan resulted in its suspension in late 1998.
"Early in 1998, UNHCR launched a new returnee monitoring system that aims to evaluate systematically the situation of returnees inside Afghanistan by means of interviews with heads of returnee families. The monitoring surveys now form the basis for UNHCR's interventions - both to protect returnees and their human rights, and to assist them during the initial reintegration phase. UNHCR was very encouraged to find that 84% of returnees reported feeling safe, and had
'Early in 1998, UNHCR launched a new returnee monitoring system that aims to evaluate systematically the situation of returnees inside Afghanistan by means of interviews with heads of returnee families' not experienced problems either with landmines or other personal security issues. Equally positive is the fact that a majority of returnees were able to recover their land and/or houses without difficulty. This is particularly noteworthy in light of the fact that 59% of the returnees interviewed had returned after more then 10 years of exile in Pakistan or Iran, and 30% had spent between 16 and 20 years abroad. On the negative side, the surveys produced alarming findings about returnees' access to health and education facilities. Only 58% of
those interviewed said there were health facilities located within a reasonable distance from their place of return. Equally worrying is the fact that 82% of school-age returnee children do not go to school, even though many of the children attended schools while they were in exile and their families would like them to continue their education. The main reasons invoked for non-attendance were: the absence of schools; economic factors which require children to contribute to the income of the family; and the restrictive policy of the Taliban, which controls most of Afghanistan, with regard to girls' education.
"UNHCR's main assistance interventions in Afghanistan, in cooperation
with other UN agencies and NGOs - and now under the UN's Common Programming
in Afghanistan - are to provide shelter assistance to returnee families, to
assist in rehabilitating community facilities for safe drinking water, and
to rehabilitate irrigation systems and health and education facilities. UNHCR's
budget for Afghanistan in 1999 - as part of the Common UN Appeal for Afghanistan
- is $17 million."
Pakistan and Afghan refugees
"The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has hosted Afghan refugees since the early 1980s. There are some 1.2 million Afghan refugees living in refugee villages in Pakistan. An unknown number of unregistered Afghans is living mainly in the main cities of Pakistan - Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi.
"External assistance by the international community has gradually reduced, and now is focusing mainly on education, health and assistance for voluntary repatriation. The generous hospitality that Pakistan has shown to Afghan refugees has allowed this huge number of people to become largely self-reliant.
"The unstable situation in Afghanistan means that prospects of durable solutions for Afghan refugees are poor. A number of refugee families wish to return to Taleban-controlled areas that offer some kind of law and order. Other groups of refugees, including educated women, find it impossible to return with the prevailing restrictions on education and movement of women. Meanwhile, recent developments in Afghanistan may result in new influxes of refugees into Pakistan.
"The Government of Pakistan and UNHCR will continue to support greater access for refugee women and girls to education, health and income-generation opportunities. They will also assist voluntary repatriation and make all efforts possible to ensure that repatriation is sustainable and a peace-building factor in Afghanistan is guaranteed."
- September 1999, http://www.unhcr.ch/world/mide/pakistan.htm
Security Council "shocked" at expected resumption of fighting in Afghanistan
"In light of the 'appalling and deteriorating'humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the United Nations Security Council expressed shock at the expected resumption of large-scale fighting there.
"Briefing correspondents on behalf of members, Council President Jeremy
Greenstock of the United Kingdom said any resumption of fighting in Afghanistan
would be 'extremely bad news.'
"Given the growing humanitarian crisis in the country, Ambassador Greenstock said, Council members called on all States to contribute urgently to the consolidated appeal fund for Afghanistan. They also expressed support for a 'two-pronged' approach to the problem of refugees worked out by the United Nations and neighbouring Pakistan, which sought to address the issue of Afghan refugees both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan where many had gone."
- 26 April, 2001, http://www.un.org/News/dh/latest/page2.html
Pakistan to evict 100,000 Afghan refugees
"Pakistan's frontier government, frustrated by a flood of Afghan refugees, has threatened to evict masses of them. The government of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province - where an estimated 1.2 million Afghans are living in refugee camps - has ordered 100,000 refugees out of the country by July 15, a local newspaper reports.
"The decision to evict comes as Pakistan copes with a fresh influx of more than 177,000 new refugees who started arriving from Afghanistan last September. Earlier this week the United Nations warned that as many as one million Afghans are in danger of starvation. They have experienced the worst drought in 30 years, a relentless civil war, and an economy in tatters.
"About 80,000 Afghans live in camps in Afghanistan's western Herat province; another 10,000 are stranded on the country's northern border with Tajikistan as 177,000 arrive in Pakistan. The United Nations has issued emergency appeals to feed, clothe and shelter the newest refugees to Pakistan. But Islamabad says it is left to feed and care for them after international emergency aid ends. 'An additional one million Afghans are believed to be working in cities throughout the Pakistan and not restricted to the camps'
"At the peak of the 1980s Afghan war against invading Russian soldiers, Pakistan hosted an estimated 5 million Afghan refugees and Iran held 2 million. When the former Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 and its pro-communist government fell three years later, millions of Afghans returned to their homeland, but more than one million stayed in Pakistan.
"The frontier government says it now wants them to return home. An additional one million Afghans are believed to be working in cities throughout the Pakistan and not restricted to the camps. The frontier government has given until July 15 for the refugees to leave voluntarily, otherwise it says it will use force. Because of Pakistan's long and porous border with Afghanistan, refugees are able to bypass border control by making tortuous journeys over mountain passes.
"The Taliban, who rule about 95 percent of Afghanistan, and their opposition, led by ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani, have rejected U.N. appeals to end their fighting and turn their resources toward helping their impoverished people."
Living a nightmare (Excerpts only)
"Twenty three years after Afghanistan was destabilised by a communist revolution, its people continue to suffer both at home and abroad. That humanity can reach such depths of misery and despair is evident inside Afghanistan at six camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Herat as well as in the makeshift Jallozai camp near Peshawar. At both places, uprooted families survive on a day-to-day basis in the hope of attracting God's mercy and the kindness of the international community.
"Having been to both Herat and Jallozai, one is tempted to draw comparisons. The camps in Herat, especially the biggest one at Maslakh, located in a windswept plain where night temperatures recently dipped to minus 25 degrees centigrade, are hopelessly equipped to provide protection against the extreme weather. A heavy snowfall recently is reported to have caused the death of over 500 people in the tented camps from cold and related complications. Beside, the dislocated Afghan families who have reached Herat from their drought-hit villages in the western and central Afghanistan provinces of Badghis, Ghor, Bamiyan, Urozgan and Farah are in such a desperate condition after losing their crops and livestock that they have neither enough warm clothing to cope with the cold nor money to buy food.
"Assistance by international donors, including the US, Norway and Pakistan, has started arriving but it came late and in insufficient quantity for the over 80,000 people settled in the six camps. Despite reminders by its diplomats based in Afghanistan, the Pakistan government belatedly responded to the appeal for assistance to the internally displaced Afghans. However, Pakistan in comparison with other wealthier nations is doing more than enough by looking after a huge number of Afghan refugees for so many years.
"At Jallozai near Pabbi in Nowshera district, a camp has sprung up out of nowhere without any planning by anyone. An open space beside the 20-year old Jallozai camp, or Hijrat village as it was called by a former Afghan mujahideen leader Professor Abdur Rab Rasul Sayyaf whose family still lives there, became the destination for newly-arrived Afghan refugees and in no time its population reached several thousand late last year. According to officials working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Pakistan, more than 150,000 Afghan refugees have until now used Jallozai as a transit camp in the hope of finding space in one of the better organized camps such as the New Shamshatoo near Peshawar. The Jallozai makeshift camp was once emptied when about 3,500 families living there were registered and shifted to the New Shamshatoo by January 13.
"But it has quickly filled up again and is now inhabited by about 80,000 refugees living in unbelievably miserable conditions. All of them have pitched tents made of plastic sheets that can provide protection neither against cold nor wind. The camp lacks sanitation, drinking water supplied through tankers is never enough, there is no school and the three basic health units run by the Afghan Refugees Commissionerate and an NGO, Medicines sans Frontiers, cannot cope with the needs of such a huge population of refugees crowding a small patch of dusty and barren land. No wonder then that about 50 refugees, mostly children, have died in the camp since mid-January largely due to respiratory diseases. Perhaps rightly so, Jallozai camp is now described as a living graveyard.
"The sad aspect of the situation is that distributing aid to the needy Afghan refugees in Jallozai is almost impossible owing to the overcrowding in the camp and the desperation from which its inmates are suffering. On at least two occasions in recent days, attempts to distribute relief goods at the camp triggered violence as the desperate refugees tried to snatch whatever they could lay their hands on. Fearing stampede, the Pakistani authorities responsible for security in the camp now decline aid distribution by a host of charity and other groups wanting to help the refugees.
"In fact, some of the relief goods collected by different organisations were sent back or stored as distributing them among such a large number of refugees is no less than a nightmare. It is, therefore, not surprising that most of the relief goods are now being sent to the New Shamshatoo camp, having a population of 60,000 refugees, whose needs are far less than those in Jallozai. The refugees in New Shamshatoo live in a proper camp with schools, clinics, mosques and roads and are provided tents, quilts, kitchen stoves, cooking sets, wheat flour, ghee and lentils. It is ironic that the most needy among the refugees cannot be assisted due to the circumstances in which they are living in places like Jallozai.
"The new influx of refugees in Pakistan has also strained relations between Islamabad and the UNHCR. The latter has been asking the Pakistan government to provide site for a new camp so that the Afghan refugees in Jallozai could be shifted there. Already burdened by Afghan refugees totalling anywhere between 1.2 million estimated by the UNHCR and a much higher number claimed by Pakistan government, Islamabad has refused to open new camps and is instead 'It is ironic that the most needy among the refugees cannot be assisted due to the circumstances in which they are living in places like Jallozai'
asking the world body and other donors to settle the displaced Afghans inside Afghanistan. Pakistan is also citing its economic difficulties and lack of international assistance for the Afghan refugees as factors that prompted it to refuse entry to the new arrivals. Beside, Pakistani authorities believe shifting the Afghan refugees now encamped at Jallozai to a proper camp would encourage more to enter Pakistan in the hope of seeking registration and entitlement to some assistance.
"The Pakistan government in the past also expressed its inability to
take more refugees but this time the tone of its functionaries, in particular
that of NWFP Governor Lt General (r) Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah, is tough
and uncompromising. Enough is enough is a term often used by the Governor
and certain other government functionaries, who point out that Pakistan and
in particular NWFP cannot afford to provide refuge forever to Afghans who
mostly are economic migrants. The Governor also ordered measures to regulate
the flow of old Afghan refugees and Pakistani tribals across the Durand Line
border between Pakistan and Afghanistan by making it mandatory for them to
possess permits. Subsequently, a short-lived police campaign was launched
to apprehend non-registered Afghan refugees in urban areas and deport them
to Afghanistan. Over 100,000 Afghan refugees living in the Nasir Bagh camp
on the outskirts of Peshawar were also ordered to vacate the land earmarked
for a new township.
'Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have never allowed Afghan refugees and still keep their borders with Afghanistan firmly locked' been very generous towards the Afghans despite its refusal, along with other South Asian countries, to sign the 1951 Geneva convention on the status of refugees. Despite the increased monitoring of its border with Afghanistan, a substantial number of new Afghan refugees still manage to sneak into Pakistan. The UNHCR estimates that about 170,000 Afghan refugees have entered the NWFP and another 18,000 Balochistan over the past few months due to drought and war in Afghanistan. Unlike Pakistan,
other countries neighbouring Afghanistan have refused to allow Afghan refugees. About 10,000 Afghans, almost all of them Tajik, living in islands on the Amu Darya near the Tajikistan border have been refused entry by the Tajik government in Dushanbe even though they are from the same stock and speak the same language.
"Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have never allowed Afghan refugees and still keep their borders with Afghanistan firmly locked. Iran was a major sanctuary for Afghan refugees and it still hosts about 1.3 million of them but it no longer is willing to welcome new arrivals. Islamabad would be justified in asking as to why Pakistan is singled out for criticism if it is seen to be less accommodating towards the Afghan refugees while other neighbouring countries, especially Tajikistan which is a signatory to the 1951 Geneva convention, is spared."
- Rahimullah Yusufzai, The News, Opinion, February 25, 2001
Afghan refugees pour into Pakistan
"About 1,000 new refugees are arriving by truckload each day, stretching to the limit facilities at six U.N.-run camps in western Herat, the United Nations said in a statement.
"'Sanitary conditions are poor,' the statement said. 'As summer is approaching the implications of the lack of adequate sanitation for public health are obvious.'
"The statement said the World Health Organization is concerned about the risk of epidemics. The worst drought in three decades has destroyed most crops and wiped out entire herds in Afghanistan. People in remote mountain villages, who have used up their food supplies, are leaving their homes in search of food and water.
"The U.N. camps in Herat now house 110,000 people and it is estimated that as many as 800,000 people are living as internal refugees inside Afghanistan.
"The United Nations is pleading for additional assistance to help those inside the country. Erick de Mul, U.N. coordinator for Humanitarian Aid to Afghanistan, earlier warned of a major catastrophe. A desperate country devastated by two decades of war, conditions in Afghanistan are rapidly deteriorating, he said.
"But so far the U.N. has received barely 10 percent of its annual $226 million appeal for Afghanistan. The average monthly wage in Afghanistan is about $10, but most people are unemployed. The price of livestock is soaring, making it virtually impossible for most people to buy meat. Prices of most staples also have gone up in recent months in part because of fresh U.N. sanctions imposed in January against the ruling Taliban.
"The problems for Afghanistan are long-term, said the U.N. statement.
The U.N. says aid to camps and villages in western Afghanistan alone will
have to continue or increase for the next 12 months at least."
Afghanistan at the crossroads
"The occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet military forces over two decades ago and the no-peace no-war situation prevailing there since then haunt the people and influence the mindset of its rulers. A ruined and destabilized Afghanistan affects the security of Pakistan, directly and indirectly.
"For this reason, among others, Pakistan seeks durable peace and tranquility
in this ravaged land to preserve and strengthen its unity. Pakistan has long
faced the traumatic by-products of the Afghan imbroglio. At one time it provided
security and relief to over three million Afghan refugees on its soil despite
its own meager resources and economic frailty. Even now over 1.5 million Afghan
refugees live in this country.
- Khalid Mahmud Arif, The Dawn, May 1, 2001
"The disaster that Pakistan and many international relief agencies had predicted in Afghanistan is beginning to unfold. Displaced Afghans are dying by the scores--reportedly 504 have died in three days, mostly children, women and the elderly - in makeshift camps within Afghanistan as a cold wave sweeps the country. At the same time, the grave conditions within Afghanistan are pushing swarms of Afghan refugees across the border into Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. The exodus is so serious that Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf has asked the United Nations and other relief agencies to help stem the flood of refugees into Pakistan by providing relief assistance and rehabilitation on Afghan soil itself.
"Pakistan obviously is in no position to take in and host, again, millions of Afghan refugees. It has hardly recovered from the drain on the economy caused by the first influx in the 1980s, which had also led to a clutch of complicated problems the country continues to live with even today. The refugee camps on Pakistani soil to provide assistance and rehabilitation to Afghan refugees are attracting more and more people to come this way, but there is little matching international contributions to bear this burden. 'Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf has asked the United Nations and other relief agencies to help stem the flood of refugees into Pakistan by providing relief assistance and rehabilitation on Afghan soil itself'
"Hundreds of thousands of people within Afghanistan are now vulnerable to cold and disease, facing death, living in inadequate shelters and miserable conditions. There is hardly one poorly equipped clinic for every 30,000 displaced people in the camps that are available there. Practically paralysed by UN sanctions, the Taliban government is trying in vain to help their people, displaced by the country's worst drought in 30 years, with whatever limited resources they have--the Taliban administration recently provided food for all the refugees for two days.
"Efforts so far by the World Food Programme and the International Committee
of the Red Cross have also proved inadequate. It is the UN and the international
community that have tied the hands of the Taliban by imposing the sanctions
on them, thus rendering them even more vulnerable. It is surely the responsibility
of the UN and the international community now to provide the necessary relief
assistance and rehabilitation within Afghanistan, and quickly too, before
the tragedy gets compounded.
Ethnicity and democracy
"Although, there is an accepted notion of a home province in respect of each ethnic group, the same territory is also claimed as a historic homeland by at least one other, and in some instances, more than one ethnic entity. Due to frequent movement of groups in the entire Indus valley basin, a broad mix of ethnic groups has emerged in all provinces of Pakistan. Each province represents the ethnic mosaic of a larger Pakistani society. However, internal migration and inflow of refugees first from India, and in the 1980s from Afghanistan, seem to have changed the demographic balance between the dominant ethnic groups in Sindh and Balochistan provinces, which may have serious political repercussions. Today, more Balochis live in other provinces than in their home province. Historically, they spilled over into other areas, and similarly, other ethnic groups settled in Balochistan mostly for economic reasons. The inflow of the Afghan refugees has further complicated the ethnic makeup of the province. Fears of losing dominant status by the native groups and frustrations of the new ones over lack of recognition of their numerical strength has often strained inter-ethnic relations."
- Rasul Bakhsh Rais,The News, February 17, 2001
Cry in wilderness
"The suggestion by Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar that the world should soften sanctions regime against the Taliban is one of those ideas that make perfect sense but are unlikely to find many takers from the international community that has become increasingly insensitive to the grim humanitarian situation in a country that once was its main area of interest.
"The fact of the matter is that more than any other spot in the world, Afghanistan is the area where a human tragedy of gigantic proportions is taking shape. And while there is a lot of lip service being paid to this aspect, and some crumbs are also being thrown into the country to create an appearance of world concern, there is no long-term strategy in the offing to deal with the underlying causes of the misery of the Afghan people.
"The most obvious of these causes is that the humanitarian effort is just too small and the tragedy too big. Moreover, the sheer vastness of the drought and the flow of the refugees that it has unleashed has opened the floodgates of new challenges that the UN agencies are neither prepared for nor have the means and the resources to deal with. On top of it is the endless wrangling over comparatively piffling concerns such as how and where to accommodate the refugees between the government of Pakistan and the UN. This is clearly not helping matters that are made worse by the sanctions regime.
"On the whole and where the situation is right now, that has made the
foreign minister to yet again repeat the demand a more sensitive policy from
the international community towards Afghanistan, there is little hope of salvation
for the people of the country. After having suffered the agony of power politics
and play between forces beyond their control and understanding they are now
facing a natural calamity they can't do a thing about. The foreign minister's
plea is a cry in the wilderness."
"United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers has not accepted the demand by Islamabad that the UN provide humanitarian assistance to displaced Afghans inside their own country. Instead, he wants Pakistan to open its border to allow free entry to the refugees irrespective of the obvious consequences for the host country. This is tantamount to shifting one's responsibilities onto others. Those who ignited the civil war in Afghanistan in order to settle Cold War scores with the Soviet Union, have since abandoned the Afghan people to their fate once their objective was achieved, leaving Pakistan to hold the baby. Since then Islamabad is hosting over two million refugees who have brought with them all sorts of problems which characterise war-torn and brutalised societies. Highly lethal weapons have found their way inside Pakistan and the narcotics traders operating from Afghanistan have used the opportunity provided by open borders to flood the host country with heroin and use it as a transit route for the rest of the world. Refugees have placed an unbearable burden on the country's resources, and have given birth to social complications and caused ecological problems.
"Severe drought conditions spread over three years, combined with UN sanctions on the Taliban government, have in the meanwhile added another dimension to the human tragedy. Over 200,000 refugees who fall into the category of economic migrants have crossed into Pakistan. A portion of them are presently living in transit camps like the one at Jallozai, awaiting resettlement. Islamabad holds that the exodus could have been prevented if food and relief had been made available to them by the international aid agencies inside Afghanistan. To put a stop to the 'Severe drought conditions spread over three years, combined with UN sanctions on the Taliban government, have in the meanwhile added another dimension to the human tragedy'
smuggling which is badly hurting the economy, and to prevent terrorists from entering the country in the garb of refugees from the other side of the Durand Line, Islamabad has of late enforced a strict ban at Torkhom on the entry of those not in possession of valid documents. In the meanwhile what Lubbers calls the insane fighting continues to rage in Afghanistan, adding to the humanitarian crisis and forcing people to leave their homes. This could have been stopped if the Security Council had treated all the warring factions even-handedly instead of targetting the Taliban alone. As things stand, the Northern Alliance continues to receive armed support not only from neighbouring countries but also from players located much farther off.
"Pakistan alone cannot bear the burden of refugees already living in camps situated inside the country, nor can it allow free entry to thousands of others who might be intending to migrate. To say that the UNCHR cannot look after internally displaced persons unless they take refuge in a neighbouring country is viewing the issue from a purely technical angle while ignoring its humanitarian dimension. Even if one was to accept the argument, one is forced to ask why the
'One is forced to ask why the UNHCR does not set up camps in other countries neighbouring Afghanistan and register them as refugees there?' UNHCR does not set up camps in other countries neighbouring Afghanistan and register them as refugees there? While Pakistan needs to send back Afghans presently living in its camps or having settled illegally inside the country, one expects that the government would conduct the operation with proper consideration for the refugees' unfortunate plight."
- The Nation, Editorial, May 9, 2001
Refugees status denied to thousands of Afghans
"Pakistan refused to give refugees status to tens of thousands of Afghans living in squalor in NWFP.
"Pakistan has no money, is trying to revive its flagging economy and cannot afford the two million Afghan refugees already living here, Iftikar Hussain Shah, NWFP Governor told a news conference.
"For months the United Nations has been pleading with Afghanistan to allow it to register the 80,000 Afghan refugees living in Jallozai Camp, a giant dustbowl, with no water, poor sanitation where refugees are dying daily.
"But Pakistan says no, despite an understanding by UN Secretary General
Kofi Annan, as well as Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
that Pakistan would accept the newest arrivals from Afghanistan.
"Until January Pakistan had agreed to allow the refugees to be registered, which is the first step toward UN assistance. But in January, Pakistan said no more, sealed its borders and refused to officially accept new Afghan refugees.
"However tens of thousands have slipped across the porous border that separated the two countries, often making a torturous journey over mountain passes and paying bribes to Pakistani security forces.
"The NWFP Governor said Pakistan wants the United Nations to set up camps inside Afghanistan. 'We have our own economic and social problems. We cannot afford the burden of new refugees', he said."
- The News, May 14, 2001
The Soviet invasion and the on going civil war has left Afghanistan in a bad situation. The situation further aggravated due to sanctions and other reasons. It is a wrong view that by imposing sanctions and by isolating Afghanistan, international community can force the country to comply with their wishes. UN sanctions against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban government had only motivated the crisis and the innocent Afghan people are suffering.
Pakistan adopted a generous open door policy for Afghan refugees because of neighbourly, Muslim country. Any criticism against Pakistan in this regard is un-just. Pakistan itself is a developing country and is facing serious difficulties in coping with this task. In the process its fragile economy has already been exposed to severe strains.
It would also be unfair to blame the multilateral institutions like the UNHCR and UN as they also have their limitations. The Afghan refugee problem deserves greater help from OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) and the Muslim world which would resolve many difficulties. The humanitarian aspect of the crisis justifies willing and readily forth coming help from rich Muslim countries. Such assistance would serve the purpose of a catalyst in expeditiously overcoming catastrophe of Afghan refugees. Pakistan and Iran should not be left alone to bear this burden.
For curtailing the current Afghanistan problem and for dealing with the refugee crisis, active interest is needed at global level for bringing peace in Afghanistan. Of course the final responsibility lies on the Afghan people who must shed away the idea of finding a military solution.
The UNHCR is doing a very good job around the world and especially in Afghanistan but the task is so gigantic that the effort is diluted due to inadequate and insufficient funding. The UNHCR should act as a catalyst to develop programmes with the assistance of other international agencies and national governments to deal with the adverse economic, social and political impact of large scale of refugee influx in Pakistan and Iran. It is important that long term perspective of the impact of refugees on host countries and their societies should also be taken into account.
As long as the Cold War was on, the refugees from Afghanistan were looked after adequately. Now that the refugee aid from the west is drying up, an economically stressed Pakistan can no longer look after them that well. The only viable solution is their repatriation with honour, dignity and safeguards back to their homeland.
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