ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is unlikely to give further extension in stay of Afghan refugees beyond June 2018 as security official have declared the refugees, particularly the unregistered ones, ‘a threat to national security’ in view of the presence of Da’ish in border areas and activities of hostile agencies.
The federal cabinet on January 3 granted a sixth extension of 30 days to the refugees after expiry of their stay on December 31, 2017. The extension is the shortest the government has ever given.
One of the government officials who attended the cabinet meeting said majority of cabinet members were against giving more time to the refugees and several ministers including Minister for Railways Saad Rafique made fiery speeches against further extension.
The cabinet members especially those belonging to the Jamait Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) – Maulana Amir Zaman and Akram Khan Durrani – who usually support the refugees also kept mum.
Prior to the cabinet meeting, senior security officials had held a detailed meeting in the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions where serious concerns were expressed over activities of Afghan officials reportedly facilitating terrorist activities in Pakistan.
Few of the points agreed in that meeting included that given the national and international scenarios, the refugees ‘are a threat to the national security’. All participants of the meeting also agreed that, effective January 1, 2018, the refugees may not be given an extension beyond June 2018.
The committees also decided that a comprehensive plan should be chalked out by taking all provinces into confidence for immediate repatriation of the refugees after the end of June. A taskforce may also be formed to carry out the plan within the stipulated time.
The plans also include confining refugees to their camps as was done by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government in 2016. This move had led to the repatriation of about 500,000 refugees which is the highest-ever figure to date.
It was decided that a flexible visa regime may be adopted where one or two members of a family would be issued visas on Afghan passports while the rest of the family would be repatriated. Similarly, work permits would be issued to two members of a family to work outside the refugee camps on the pattern of Iran while the rest of the members would be restricted to their camps.
Right after the finalisation of the repatriation policy, a senior security official said, a presentation would be given to the federal cabinet where officials from the army, K-P, Balochistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior and all other stakeholders will be invited.
For securing finances required for repatriation, it has been decided to seek assistance from all donors in which the grant for returning refugees can be increased from $200 to $400.
Commenting on the new strategy for refugees, a senior official of the Safron ministry said security is a serious issue but a hasty decision could create more problems.
“We can even opt for enforced repatriation and we should keep in mind that these people may become even more vulnerable for exploitation than ever,” he said.
The official, who was not allowed to talk to media, said currently there were about 900,000 refugees living out of the government-designated camps in different parts of the country while the rest of the registered and unregistered refugees lived in settled areas.
Official figures suggest Pakistan is currently hosting 1.9 million Afghan refugees including 1.3 million registered and roughly over 600,000 unregistered ones. When asked if the government would extend the stay of Afghan refugees after June, the official replied that the security institutions in the country was strictly against any such step.
“So it is very unlikely that it will happen this time,” he concluded.