Their houses have been levelled and memories of their native homeland draped in dust. For many Afghans, Pakistan is the only home now. It’s a place where their children have grown up and newer, better memories have been made.
“I am a native of Logar area of Afghanistan and there is nothing there except for lofty hills and a vast empty wilderness,” said Sultan Khan, an Afghan refugee. The Taliban rule after sundown while the government and foreign troops regain control during the day, he added.
Khan resides in a refugee camp in Badhaber where about 95% people are from Logar.
Currently, he works as a taxi driver in Peshawar and recently purchased a car. Like most of the Badhaber camp refugees, he has no agricultural land holdings in his native village and most of them do not intend to go back home. They have started afresh in Pakistan.
Around 610,000 Afghan refugees currently reside in camps across Pakistan, majority of which are located in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal belt.
Haji Naek Muhammad, a camp elder, said that life in the inaccessible mountains of Afghanistan is very tough. He has two sons earning in Saudi Arabia and money is not a problem for the family. But he, like Khan, prefers living in Pakistan. “There is a war going on and you cannot take sides. Being neutral is also not an option in Logar,” Muhammad said.
There are 68 refugee camps across K-P and the tribal areas, 12 in Balochistan and one in Punjab. Over 51,000 registered refugees live in K-P, over 85,000 in Balochistan and more than 14,000 in Kot Chandana, Punjab.
Attempts to force people to move by closing camps, including ones in Kacha Garhi, Nasir Bagh and Jalozai, remain unfruitful because most refugees move to residential areas instead of returning to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a good place for skilled workers but most of our people are drivers and there is no place for them there, said Nadir Khan, an Afghan refugee residing in the Zandi refugee camp. Poor people cannot even afford building a brick house there, he says.
“Yes, in Afghanistan you earn money but with the expenses, you will find it unaffordable to do so. We have heard that the government provide houses to people but have not seen any such project so far in the far flung hinterlands,” Nadir said.
Qaisar Khan Afridi, a spokesman for the UNHCR, said that his organisation is against the idea of forced repatriation of refugees. “We want them to go back to their homeland with dignity and honour.”
While Afghan refugees are considered a threat to law and order, they have contributed to the country’s gem stones, carpet manufacturing and bee keeping industries. Around 90% of honey bee keepers in Pakistan are Afghan nationals while ethnic Afghan Tajiks contribute significantly in the production of hand-made carpets in K-P.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2012.
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