Despite announcement by the federal government, Afghan refugees in Peshawar are not willing to return to their homeland by December 31, 2012 deadline.
“Our people are more comfortable here and we have established our businesses here... to leave Pakistan is impossible for us,” said Sardar Wali, who hails from Afghanistan’s Ningahar province. Working at a carpet shop in Karkhano Market, he said that while Afghanistan was their elders’ homeland, Pakistan is the homeland for his generation, adding that he was not ready to leave it.
Sardar’s family migrated to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) in 1980 during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and settled at the Shamshato Camp.
“I was born and brought up in K-P, this is my hometown,” he maintained. Sardar claimed he felt like an alien when he visited Afghanistan.
“No one knew me,” he said.
Afghan carpet merchant Yousaf said a large number of shopkeepers and businessmen started their business in very difficult conditions.
UNHCR Pakistan spokesperson Dunya Aslam Khan told The Express Tribune that currently 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees lived in Pakistan and estimated over a million more were living here unregistered. One million registered refugees live in K-P. She said that so far around seven million had willingly returned to Afghanistan.
Talking about the December 31 deadline, she said that according to Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, the repatriation of refugees would only be voluntary. “Afghan refugees that take part in the voluntary repatriation programme are given $150 per person in order to cover transportation costs and initial costs of settling back home.” Each family will also be given a card that guarantees them financial aid in Afghanistan.
Afghan Refugees Commissioner Syed Zaheerul Islam, however, said that after December 31 every Afghan national living in Pakistan would be doing so illegally. He said that voluntary repatriation began on May 25 this year and a large number of Afghans returned to their country.
District Coordination Officer Javed Marwat said police have begun searching for illegal foreigners. He also said that the government, Afghan Commissionerate and UNCHR would hold a meeting soon to decide the future of the refugees. The DCO hoped the government would find a mutually beneficial way to return the Afghans to their country.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2012.