In response to the criticism of the treatment of refugees by the Lower House, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Monday called for formulating a national policy on repatriation of Afghan refugees to their home country.

Responding to the points of order in the National Assembly, he stuck to his stance and called for the 3.5 million Afghan nationals, both registered and unregistered, to be repatriated, as it was time to do so after 40 years of extending our hospitality to them.

A national policy to deal with this mammoth task is the need of the hour. The Afghan refugees have never been allowed the option of attaining Pakistani nationality and it was understood that they would return to their homeland, once the conditions called for it. Elsewhere in the world refugees have been confined to camps but not in Pakistan and were welcomed as guests. Afghan refugees have not only set up businesses, but some of them have also managed to acquire Pakistani identity cards illegally. This is one line crossed too far and there is no option but to rectify this via identification and repatriation.

Pakistan must protect its national interests. Repatriation is just a bitter pill that must be swallowed. The refugees must not resist what has to be done, so long as the method is legal and they are addressed with respect. The process of repatriation has accelerated as more than 20,000 Afghan refugees returned to Afghanistan in the month of July and the number of voluntarily returning refugees has also increased as compared to their number in the first six months of the past year. Voluntary repatriation can be done successfully despite misgivings that some political leaders might have. The Ministry of Interior seems to be mindful of the needs of the Afghan people and will ensure that they are returned with the dignity they deserve.