Afghan refugees, it is expected, are supposed to prepare for a return journey to their homeland as the one-month extension expires by the end of January. Given that this extension was the sixth one-time extension to Afghan refugees, it is clear that the government still lacks clarity on the issue of Afghan Refugees. The government had started the repatriation process pompously a few years ago; however, the process is yet to be completed. It is lack of clear policy on the issue of refugees that we are still raising the issue with United Nations Refugee Committee and the US and Afghan governments.
Pakistan’s internal challenges and weakened economy do not allow the country to extend hospitality to Afghan refugees. There has been a subsequent decrease in funding from international donors for Afghan refugees. Therefore, Pakistan is forced to call for the honourable repatriation of all remaining Afghan refugees. But it seems that Afghan authorities are least interested in accepting its people. Though President Ghani’s government launched a campaign, ‘Khpal Watan, Gul Watan’ (My land, Beautiful land) to attract Afghan nationals to repatriate in 2016, his call was not answered by Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. The reason was ill preparations by Ghani’s government.
Ashraf Ghani should take all necessary steps for the resettlement of Afghan refugees who will leave Pakistan as soon as the term ends. For this purpose as well, Islamabad needs to engage with Kabul. Moreover, Pakistan should not give the impression to the Afghanistan or the US that Afghan refugees are used as a bargaining chip. Such a perception will wash out the good image of Pakistan in the eyes of Afghan refugees who see Pakistan as their second home. Our limitations should speak for our inability to sustain almost 3 million Afghan refugees anymore.
The issue of sending Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan needs to be done in most dignified, honorable, and considered manner, not in the ad hoc way as it is being conducted now. Moreover, Islamabad’s calls for ‘voluntary repatriation’ means that the host country is fully cognizant of difficulties that Afghanistan is facing. Finally, ‘raising the issue’ will not help anyone in the process of return of refugees. A multipronged agreement should be reached upon by all three principle partners, i.e., UNHCR, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to ensure the safe resettlement of Afghan people who have been living outside their lands for decades.