World Refugee Day: How poor countries deal with the refugee problem

World Refugee Day is observed on 20th June every year. The day is dedicated to raising awareness of the refugees’ situation all over the world.

It was decided on 4 December 2000 by United Nations General Assembly in a resolution 55/76 that from 2001, 20th June would be celebrated as World Refugee Day.

In the same resolution, the General Assembly noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

According to definition provided by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his/her country because of persecution, war, or violence.

These people are most likely unable to return to their home countries because of having some fears of getting killed due to war situation, or any sort of violence.

1951 Geneva Convention clearly indicates what kind of legal protection, assistance and social rights a refugee should receive from the countries who have signed the document.

According to UNHCR, 65.6 million people are forced to leave their homes or countries. Out of these 22.5 million are registered as refugees, 17.2 million are under UNHCR mandate while 5.3 million Palestinian refugees are registered by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Courtesy: UNHCR

According to above data complied by UNHCR, top three refugee hosting countries include:

  1. Turkey with 2.9 million refugees
  2. Pakistan with 1.4 Million refugees
  3. Lebanon with 1.0 Million refugees

So according to the report above, Pakistan ranks 2nd among the countries hosting the highest number of refugees mainly from its neighbour Afghanistan. United Nations Geneva praises Pakistan for its efforts to relocate displaced refugees, mainly from Afghanistan.

Source: UNHCR

Also read: Pakistan’s uneasy relation with Afghan refugees

The estimated population of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is of the documented refugees only. The number of undocumented refugees still remains unknown.

History of Afghan refugees in Pakistan

The migration of Afghan refugees began in late 1979 when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan to support the unstable communist government and install their own president. According to UNHCR, by the end of 1979 there were already 400,000 refugees in Pakistan. By the end of 2001, there were over four million.

Since 2002 most of them had returned to their country. But UNHCR reported in February 2017 that about 1.3 million registered Afghan citizens still remained in Pakistan, distributed as follows: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (81 percent); Punjab (10 percent); Balochistan (seven percent) and Sindh (one percent).

Implications of refugees for Pakistan

Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz in an interview with SAMAA TV said that the issue of Afghan refugees has become a security issue for Pakistan because these refugee camps have become ‘safe havens for terrorists’ due to unregulated movement. He also said that 5 million refugees came to Pakistan along with drugs, guns bringing instability to Pakistan”.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan also said that investigations into recent terrorism incidents had brought out the fact that Afghan refugees were used as facilitators in most of the cases. This is matter of great concern for Pakistan. It is inevitable to complete the registration process of all the Afghan non registered refugees in Pakistan.

Pakistan is a developing country with an estimated population of 194.9 million people, making it the world’s sixth most populous country. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in Pakistan was 4.71 percent in 2016. Afghan refugees in Pakistan are an enormous economic burden.

Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch said that Pakistan cannot afford to host Afghan refugees any longer and has spent more than $200 billion in the last 30 years on them.

Due to the ongoing military operations in the country Pakistan has to deal with its own challenge of Temporarily Displaced Persons.

Pakistan needs to adopt a comprehensive and durable repatriation policy which can only take place if Pakistan formulates a comprehensive policy for its own end.

Afghan government should also take emergency steps to reintegrate its displaced population; otherwise, the cycle of displacement will continue.

Despite hosting such a large number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, for many years Pakistan is being criticized for returning thousands of Afghan refugees. Government’s policy has been criticised by rights groups for months. World should acknowledge the efforts of Pakistan to facilitate Afghan refugees despite having security and economic threats.

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