PESHAWAR: The National Action Plan that followed the Army Public School attack resulted in a harsh crackdown against Afghans in the province, especially as the massacre is believed to have been planned in the neighbouring country.
“After the attack in 2014, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government started surveying refugee camps in the province and arrested innocent people,” Abdullah Jan, an Afghan refugee living in Shamshato Camp, told The Express Tribune. “The government told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and assistant commissioners to arrest unregistered Afghan refugees.”
However, although refugees’ stay has been extended till 2017, the conditions they are living under are not pleasant. Jan said a large number of Afghan families live in Shamshato Camp but there are no facilities available to them from the federal government or the UN agencies. “We run two schools and a hospital on our own as the government does not help us.”
Access to education is vital for successful repatriation, resettlement or local integration for refugees, suggests a UNHCR report. However, globally it is estimated only one in every two child refugees is able to attend primary school and only one in four attend secondary school. For Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the number falls: approximately 80% children are presently out of school.
UNHCR has released a contextual report on the education and future of Afghan refugees. The report outlines the challenges that children, especially girls, face in accessing education in Pakistan.
Looking for voluntary repatriation
Meetings have been held to seek solutions for the issues pertaining to refugees in the province.
UNHCR Communication and Public Information Associate Qaiser Khan Afridi told The Express Tribune the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan had presented some recommendations regarding Afghan refugees during the Tripartite Commission meeting on August 21 in Kabul.
“The recommendations were supported by UNHCR.” He added the federal government proposed an extension for their stay until December 31, 2017. The proof of registration cards of the refugees expire towards the end of 2015. The proposal has been given considering the law and order situation in the home country of the refugees, Afghanistan; and is mentioned in the federal government’s draft, National Policy on Voluntary Repatriation and Management of Afghan Nationals beyond 2015. This proposal is undergoing inter-ministerial deliberations and is pending a final decision by the Federal Cabinet.
UNHCR believes the proposed extension, if announced soon, will address the prevailing anxiety among Afghan refugees and further underscore the commitment of the Government of Pakistan to the voluntary repatriation of refugees, in phases, taking Afghanistan’s capacity into account.
The proposed two-year extension is also in line with the recently endorsed extension of the regional Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR Phase II from 2015-17), which is the overarching framework for the three governments (Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan) and UNHCR.
However, Qaiser is hopeful the extension matter would be finalised.
So far in 2015, around 60,000 Afghan refugees have voluntarily repatriated to their homeland.
UNHCR data suggests 3.9 million registered Afghan refugees from different parts of the country have been sent home while 1.5 million are still remaining. Out of the count, nearly a million refugees are living in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
An official of the K-P Home and Tribal Affairs department, requesting anonymity, shared over a million undocumented Afghan refugees are living in the country and half of them are residing in K-P while the remaining are in the tribal areas and other provinces.
However, not all Afghans are refugees or wish to go back home as they consider Pakistan their home. Gul Rehmat, an Afghan working in a marble shop in Karkhano Market, said they grew up in Pakistan and have families in the country. “How can we leave this area?” he questioned, saying they were not prepared to return to Afghanistan at any cost. He appealed to the Government of Pakistan to extend the deadline and relax some policies as police harass them everywhere when they travel.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2015.
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