“I spent 28 years without any problem, but the disrespect and humiliation I’ve suffered at the hands of the police in the past four years is beyond explanation,” said Wazir Gul, 40, sitting on a charpoy in front of his small shop at the Sector I-11 Afghan refugee camp.
Gul has been living in the camp since 1998. He said that even though he is not a Pakistani national, he is still human, and such treatment should not even be meted out to animals.
“The police and even ordinary citizens treat us with a demeaning attitude,” he said. According to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 1,000 Afghan families have been residing in the camp for the last two decades. Police excesses against them have become routine.
“I was arrested by the Tarnol police despite showing my Afghan Citizen Card and proof of registration (PoR), [document required to prove legal refugee status], yet I was only released after greasing their palms with Rs3,500,” said Izzat Khan.
The refugees in the camp complained that the police entered their houses without permission or even knocking, use abusive language and beat up the men in front of their family members.
“A few days back, three policemen entered my house, thrashed me and my sons and used obscene language. Then they took us to the Sabzi Mandi Police Station, where we spent two nights,” said Gul Nabi.
The refugees also said policemen tear up refugees’ PoR documents after asking the refugees to produce them.
“When we show our POR, the police tear it apart and thrash them in front of their families before threatening to send us to K-P and then to Afghanistan,” a refugee claimed.
However, the allegations leveled by Afghan refugees were rejected by the police, who said that most refugees who are arrested do not have PoRs and are involved in thefts, street crimes and terrorist activities. “We only arrest Afghan nationals who don’t have valid travel documents or are involved in crimes,” said Tarnol Police Station House Officer Fazlur Rahman.
Operations SSP Yasin Farooq could not be contacted despite repeated attempts on his phone and multiple visits to his office.
Though the repatriation date for 1.6 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan has been extended till June 2013, their repatriation is gaining momentum due to police excesses. So far, around 50 families have returned to Afghanistan.
UNHCR Spokesperson Qaiser Afridi said, “Police should cooperate with Afghan refugees having valid PoR rather than harassing them,” he said.
As you sow, so shall you reap
In what appears to be a reaction to the Pakistani police’s actions against Afghan refugees, the Kabul police and Afghan National Army recently carried out a crackdown on undocumented Pakistani nationals in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan. They were allegedly apprehended and deported to Pakistan.
Mohammad Arif Shafi, who hails from Charsadda and works for the Kabul-based news agency Pajwak, told The Express Tribune that the Afghan media’s portrayal of Pakistan is not favourable and it is adversely affecting Pakistani nationals in that country.
“During visits to Afghanistan, Pakistanis have no answer when their hosts complain about the Pakistani police’s attitude towards Afghan nationals, as some elements in our police department have unfortunately earned a bad name for our country,” he said.
The job market in Afghanistan for Pakistani national is shrinking rapidly as it is difficult for them to get a white-collar job, despite numerous employment opportunities.
“Recently, 23 Pakistanis were manhandled by the Afghan National Army. They were unconscious when they crossed into Pakistan, which is the result of the poor treatment of Afghan nationals here,” said former interior minister and Qaumi Watan Party Chairman Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao.
“I have raised the issue on the floor of the house as improved people-to-people contacts are the only guarantee for peace in the region,” Sherpao said.
Munir Khan Orakzai, a parliamentarian from Fata, said the government should take notice of the way the police treat Aghan refugees.
“The forced repatriation of Afghan refugees has inflamed anti-Pakistan sentiments in Afghanistan. This will definitely affect relations among tribes living along either side of the border,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2013.