There seems to be an ever-present ruthlessness when it comes to the treatment of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Nearly 1,900 people — over 300 families — were forced to leave the Torkham area this week after being given a four-day deadline by the political administration of Khyber Agency to vacate the area. After the four-day notice lapsed, homes in the area were razed to the ground by bulldozers. A majority of the residents here carry on businesses via the border area and have been residing in Pakistan legally with proof of registration cards. Yet they face an insecure, precarious situation. This is not the first such incident of forced evacuation or brutality shown towards Afghan nationals. There has been an obvious increase in victimisation of Afghans in the country following the APS attack in December 2014. Arbitrary deadlines have been given to Afghans in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal region to leave the country.
The narrative to justify the involuntary repatriations involves security concerns and it is deeply unfortunate that hapless refugees are blamed for the state’s repeated security failures. A Human Rights Watch report released last year documented the growing harassment of Afghans in Pakistan following the December 2014 attack. According to the report, between January and mid-February 2015 alone, 33,000 Afghans returned to Afghanistan to escape harassment from authorities in Pakistan. There is a clear need for compassion to be employed in the way Afghan refugees are dealt with. Last year was the worst for Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001 with nearly 11,000 civilians killed or wounded, according to a UN report. But there seems to be little realisation for the sufferings of the Afghan people. At the same time, it is not easy for Pakistan to continue to host one of the largest refugee populations in the world, which comes with its own pressures. However, repatriation of refugees must only be done in a humane manner and with all stakeholders on board i.e., Pakistan, Afghanistan, the UNHCR and Afghan nationals themselves.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2016.
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