The Sindh government’s decision to engage the UNHCR to carry out a census of the Afghan refugees living in Karachi is likely to be supported by all political stakeholders in the province, including nationalist groups and the MQM-P.
Afghan refugees have never been welcome guests in Sindh and their presence and any talk about their stay or settlement have always been opposed by the PPP and other parties.
However, during a meeting with the UNHCR representative for Pakistan, Ruven Menikwela, on Tuesday, the Sindh CM is reported to have said that his government had no idea of the actual number of Afghans and other refugees in Karachi.
This is another indication of Sindh-based political parties’ apprehensions about the last census which either failed to enumerate the refugee population in Karachi or the figures were not integrated into provisional count that was also made the basis for 2018 elections.
Around 4.4 million Afghan refugees have returned under the voluntary repatriation programme since 2002. But Pakistan continues to host 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, while according to an estimate, another million or so refugees will still be living outside the formal registration system of UNHCR which include over 50,000 living in Karachi.
But representatives of most political parties as well as official circles of the provincial government believe that the number of unregistered Afghan refugees living in Karachi must be far higher. However, evolving a consensus on the fate of Afghan refugees even after the proposed count by the UNHCR is completed, it will still remain a challenging task for the Sindh government.
Be it Afghan refugees or the Urdu-speaking people referred to as Biharis, their presence is always taken to cause ethnic imbalance in the province.
The PPP and nationalist groups fear about changing demographic pattern, especially in urban areas, with the presence of people belonging to any other ethnic identity.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2019.
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