Pakistan still hosts one of the highest number of refugees as over 2.5 million Afghans are displaced from the war-ravaged nation. Afghans comprise the largest refugee population in Asia and ongoing violence and political instability keep people from returning to the country.
Pakistan is hosting an international conference next week to mark the four-decade-long stay of Afghan refugees. In 1979, Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan forcing over three million people to seek refuge in Pakistan. Many have stayed ever since bringing a myriad of problems including the introduction of the drugs and the Kalashnikov culture, while Pakistan showed exemplary hospitality.
The conference is being held at a critical juncture as efforts are being made to secure a peace deal in Afghanistan, marking the end of the long-running conflict. Afghan refugees will be able to return to their country when peace is fully restored. The moot will overview the present situation, reflect on the lessons learned, identify challenges and discuss solutions for the voluntary return of Afghan refugees.
The repatriation of Afghan refugees remains an arduous task as less than 5000 were sent back in the last seven months. Many Afghans have illegally occupied properties in Pakistan and have families here; they are unlikely to return home. The repatriation process has been a failure and the government has on several occasions extended the date for their repatriation. This will surely be one of the key issues to be considered at the conference.
The presence of Afghan refugees has raised concerns that it will alter regional demography. The Sindh government has decided to register Afghan-origin people in the province and set up camps for their accommodation. The documentation of all Afghan migrants in Sindh is necessary to tackle the legal challenges but the situation could spill over if there are allowed to freely move in town and cities.
Pakistan co-hosted the Global Refugee Convention in Geneva in December last year to build a more equitable response to the refugee crisis. The UN chief said that the world is not doing enough as only a handful of countries are hosting refugees. He had said the world needs to reaffirm the human rights of refugees and pledge more support.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that Pakistan understands the plight of refugees as it was born from a migrant crisis. The country has shown immense compassion, generosity, and hospitality, but after four decades, it is time that the Afghan migrants should be repatriated to their homeland.