By Zia Ur Rehman
January 5, 2016
Unable to reach decision on extending refugees’ stay in Pakistan, SAFRON issues letter instructing LEAs not to harass them
After the current framework under which Afghan refugees reside in Pakistan expired on December 31, the ones living in different areas of Karachi fear that they would be harassed by the law enforcement agencies even though the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) has restrained them from doing so.
SAFRON, after failing to reach a decision about granting an extension in the status of registered Afghan refugees, issued a letter to the interior ministry secretary and the provinces’ chief secretaries, home secretaries and police chiefs, asking them to instruct all relevant departments and agencies to ensure that Afghan refugees possessing Proof of Registration (PoR) cards issued by the National Database Registration Authority were not subjected to any adverse action or harassment until the national policy on Afghan refugees was finalised.
After an attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 wherein over 147 people, including 135 children, were killed, the law enforcement agencies had launched a crackdown on Afghan refugees across the country, including Karachi, compelling many of them to return to their homeland, despite the harsh cold weather there at that time and security issues.
Haji Abdullah, a representative of the Afghan refugees in Karachi, said SAFRON had timely issued the letter as cases of police harassment had reduced after it.
“Although police harass refugees regularly, the cases have decreased now,” he said, adding that copies of the letter had been distributed at all police stations of areas with Afghan refugee populations.
However, some refugees said police were arresting them under the Foreigner Registration Act and releasing them after taking a bribe between Rs1,000 and Rs.10,000.
Haji Sohrab, another Afghan elder, said police had found an opportunity to mint money from the poor refugees whose PoR cards expired on December 31.
“Police are obeying SAFRON’s orders and harassing the refugees,” he added.
Pakistan has been host to the world’s largest refugee population. Millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan in the 1980s after the Soviet invasion and during the rule of Taliban in the late 1990s. At one time, there were 4.4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Now there are around 1.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan with PoR cards, said Duniya Aslam Khan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson in Pakistan.
In addition, over a million unregistered ones also live in Pakistan, according to the Commissioner of Afghan Refugees.
The UNCHR statistics show that there are 62,500 registered Afghan refugees in Sindh, 85 percent of them in Union Counil-4 and Union Council-5 of the defunct Gadap Town, which includes Camp Jadeed and Afghan Basti.
After the Peshawar school attack, the National Action Plan was chalked out that called for formation of a policy that dealt with Afghan refugees; starting off with their registration.
Khan said Pakistan had shared its draft policy on Afghan refugees in the tripartite committee meeting in Kabul. “The proposed extension for the stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is till 2017 but the government has not announced its policy yet,” she added.