Pakistan cannot afford to host Afghan refugees any longer and has spent more than $200 billion in the last 30 years on them, said Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch.
Baloch said international humanitarian organisations should assist in providing protection and ensure the timely and safe return of refugees to their home country.
Addressing a press conference in Peshawar on Friday, he said initially Pakistan was hosting five million refugees and even today there are more than three million registered and unregistered refugees in the country, most of whom are living in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).
The minister further mentioned the government’s two-year extension to refugees on the request of UNHCR, the United Nation’s Refugee Agency.
Baloch said the government will continue to provide protection to Afghans in Pakistan, but “the government of Afghanistan must improve the conditions of its country so refugees can start repatriating. They can only return if there is durable peace in Afghanistan,” Baloch said.
He also directed law enforcement agencies to not arrest or harass Afghans as long as they possess their old registration cards, since the new cards may take two months to be issued. Baloch said he would order action against any police official found harassing refugees without a reason.
“Refugees often get involved in different types of crime as they are legally not allowed to work in Pakistan. This also worsens law and order problems for the country.” he said.
Baloch said the Refugees Affected and Hosting Areas programme has been initiated by the government. “Donors have pledged $600 million for the project, but so far only $15 million has been given.”
The minister said various development projects, including the supply of clean drinking water, construction of educational institutions, hospitals and parks, would also be initiated in areas where refugees have lived and are still living.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2013.