Pakistan is the largest refugee-hosting country in the world, hosting some 1.6 million registered refugees currently, according to data released by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on World Refugee Day.
The data shows that Afghanistan remains the world’s leading source of refugees – around 2.6 million Afghan refugees are currently living worldwide. The majority is being hosted by Pakistan, making it the largest protracted refugee situation globally.
UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report, which was released on Friday, also revealed that some 51.2 million people were forcibly uprooted worldwide at the end of last year, the highest level since after World War Two. They included 16.7 million refugees and 33.3 million displaced within their homelands, and 1.2 million asylum seekers whose applications were pending.
“We are really facing a quantum leap, an enormous increase of forced displacement in our world,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told a news briefing. Since March 2002, UNHCR has facilitated the return of 3.8 million registered Afghans from Pakistan, stated an official UNHCR document.
In July 2013, the federal cabinet decided to extend the temporary stay of Afghan refugees. The Pakistani government, with UNHCR assistance, has issued new refugee cards to over 1.6 million Afghan refugees, which are valid till the end of 2015. This card allows Afghans to legally remain in Pakistan and protects them from risks like extortion, arbitrary arrest, detention and deportation.
Efforts to promote durable solutions for Afghans are being pursued through Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR), launched at an international conference in Geneva in May 2012, complemented by Pakistani government’s national policy on Afghan refugees adopted in July 2013. The document mentioned that UNHCR will continue to advocate for Pakistan to adopt national legislation on refugees.
Afghan refugees who have fled Afghanistan due to violence and persecution at various times since 1979, of which almost 40% are living in refugee villages and around 60% in urban and rural host communities throughout Pakistan; and asylum- seekers and individually recognised refugees from various countries, who are living mainly in urban areas, and once recognised by UNHCR under its mandate, are channelled through resettlement procedures, as stated in the document.
UNHCR will focus on improving registration, protection needs assessments and refugee status determination, together with increasing the resettlement options for those unable to repatriate or facing serious protection challenges. The UNHCR has been assisting the return of these refugees through cash donations. Every year, UNHCR holds several special events to recognise the lives of refugees and those who are dedicated to helping them.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2014.