While Pakistan takes pride in being the world’s largest host of refugees, with over 1.45 million refugees, the only way forward for the country is repatriation. The majority of refugees hail from Afghanistan, some of whom have their second generations growing up in the country.
But as the influx of Afghan refugees increased since the late 1970s, so did terrorism, drug trafficking and arms smuggling. Clearly, refugees are not to blame for the ills that plague the country today, but forced out of their own country under precarious circumstances, refugees have fallen prey to nefarious state actors. A safe and dignified repatriation process is not only beneficial for Pakistan but also for the hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of who live in makeshift camps.
However, while Pakistan can push for voluntary repatriation, peaceful conditions in Afghanistan are significant for an effective and meticulous repatriation process. The UNHCR has facilitated the returns of millions of registered Afghan refugees from Pakistan since 2002, but the effectiveness of it is directly linked with the situation in the war-torn country.
According to a UNHCR planning summary of the management and repatriation policy 2018, there was a decrease in the number of returning refugees between 2015 and 2016 – the same years when a relative resurgence of terrorist attacks was experienced in Afghanistan.
Even in 2018, the economic and political conditions in Afghanistan – poverty, unemployment and the worst drought experienced this year – are not ideal for Afghan refugees to return. But Pakistan being part of the 17 year long war in Afghanistan is in a position to push for talks with the government in Kabul to help achieve peace in the region. For the safety of the refugees and Pakistan itself, the government needs to consider a humanitarian approach that looks towards gradual repatriation keeping into consideration the situation in Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2018.