In 2017, there were 30.6 million new displacements associated with conflict and disasters across 143 countries and territories. Approximately 80000 people displaced every Day. 39% new internal displacement were triggered by Conflicts & 61% by disasters. Over 2 billion people live in fragile conflict zones, driving 80% of the world’s humanitarian needs. These complex crises threaten efforts to end extreme poverty, and often increase tensions between ethnic, tribal and political groups. Resulting instability and threats of violence drive people from their homes and prevent access to food, water, health services and shelter.
There are always two competing ethical perspectives at play when dealing with conflict-induced refugee situations. The first is purely humanitarian, entirely divorced from political considerations. The second is a political and military perspective, which considers the refugee problem as an integral part of the larger political issue, in which the host country may share part of the responsibility.
Since 2009, Islamabad has repeatedly pushed back a deadline for Afghan refugees who arrived from the 1980s onwards to return to their home country. The exodus of Afghan refugees begins in late 1979 when Soviet troops invade Afghanistan to shore up the unsteady communist government and install their own president.
According to UNHCR statistics, the total number peaked at 3,270,000 in 1989, more than 3% of Pakistan’s total population at the time. In fact, from 1980 to 2002 Afghan refugees in Pakistan constituted the largest single refugee population in the world. Pakistan is neither a signatory to either the 1951 convention that relates to status of refugees nor a party/signatory to the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees.
The Pakistan government also allows Afghan refugees access to basic health services. However, non-Afghan refugees and asylum seekers as well as Afghans who reside in urban settlements do not have access to public schools and must send their children to private schools. Although overall Pakistan has been a generous host to Afghan refugees, its policy has been ambivalent. From 1978 to January 1980, the government of Pakistan supported the refugees only with its own resources.
Since 2002, the UNHCR has assisted a total of more than 3.9 million Afghans in Pakistan to return home, the largest voluntary repatriation programme in the agency’s history. It was in 2009 that the UNHCR and the government of Pakistan reached an agreement allowing Afghan refugees to stay in Pakistan till end 2012. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about 1.9 million registered refugees were present in Pakistan in January 2011, the vast majority of whom were from Afghanistan.
By the end of 2013, Pakistan continued to host the largest number of refugees in the world (1.6 million), nearly all from Afghanistan, reported by UNHCR. At the same time voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan to Afghanistan has also been the largest in the world, with 3.8 million having been assisted by UNHCR to return home since 2002.
Pakistan has generously hosted the world’s largest refugee population for three decades, and it was essential to mobilise more support from the international community to sustain efforts such as the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (Raha) initiative, which is a way of thanking the hosts of these refugees. senior UNHCR official Ms Maya Ameratunga.
According to United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the number of Afghanis living in Pakistan for 40 years is more than 14 lacs. Government officials said that the refugees are a burden on the local resources of food, water and electricity and also creating difficulties at Torkham border with their transportation.
On the other hand, the residents said that they have been living in Pakistan for so many years and have permanently settled their businesses and houses here. They said that they have wholeheartedly accepted Pakistan as their own country.
“I arrived in 1979, I lived my whole life here…. I am returning but my heart is crying, I am depressed,” Abdul Rab, a 46-year-old political activist originally from Jalalabad but who settled in Pakistan’s Peshawar, told AFP.
During the presentation of the key findings of the 2019 GEM report, UNESCO Representative Vibeke Jensen highlighted that the Report was an essential reference for policy-makers to understand both positive and negative effects of migration and displacement on education systems.
UNHCR Representative Ruvendrini Menikdiwela praised the government’s efforts to provide refugee children with access to education through inclusion in government schools. She said 40 per cent of Afghan refugee children were attending Pakistani schools.
“Amid its internal education challenges, Pakistan has maintained its generous education policy for refugees which is indeed a great investment in peace, prosperity and sustainable development in both Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Menikdiwela said. She said the generous education policy was a reflection of Pakistan’s commitment to support the Sustainable Development Goal on Education (SDG-4) and the law in Pakistan Article 25-A which stipulates free and compulsory education for all children
H.E Mohsin Durrani
Ambassador at Large &
Advisor UN Affairs
International Human Rights Commission