Naheed Jahangir

PESHAWAR: Many Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan for the last 40 years, but still most of them are reluctant to go back.

“I have no intention of going back from Pakistan. The only way for me to leave Pakistan is that if someone stuffs me in a gunnysack and throws me on Afghan side of the border,” says an Afghan refugee woman, Brekhna, who was born and grown up in Pakistan.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesman Qaiser Khan Afridi says 1.4 million Afghan refugees are registered in Pakistan, including 800,000 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“We don’t want to go back to Afghanistan. If eventually it happens against our will, then I will also have to shift the grave of my deceased son in Pakistan to Afghanistan,” says Gul Pari, another Afghan refugee woman.

Impact of Afghan culture

Gul Pari said the Afghan refugees have brought their destiny with themselves and now leaving Pakistan is not a favourable option for them.

University of Peshawar Sociology Department Professor Dr Zarar Khan says Afghan refugees have left deep impact on Pakistani culture and now both cultures have mixed. He said the dresses and cuisine of Afghan refugees has particular effect on Pakhtun culture. He said the language of Afghans has also impacted the local language.

Crimes ratio in KP linked to refugees

Journalist Arshad Yousafzai said Peshawar is a small city, but it has been made even more congested due to influx of refugees. He said Afghan refugees are often found involved in criminal activities, as per police record.

SSP Operation Zahoor Afridi said a total of 186 criminal cases were registered in Peshawar this year and 220 Afghan refugees were allegedly involved in these crimes. Even during the coronavirus lockdown, 24 cases were registered against Afghan refugees in Peshawar. He said Afghan refugees are involved in more than 15.5 percent crimes.

UNHCR centres for repatriation

Qaiser Khan Afridi said the centres for repatriation of Afghan refugees have been set up in Nowshera and Quetta. He said after registration at these centres, the returning families receive $200 from the UNHCR and return to Afghanistan. He said there are 5,400 projects for registered Afghan refugees in which they are given facilities of education, health and other needs.

He said the refugees in one way are benefiting Pakistan in the head of labour, taxes and business activities.

In case of peace deal

Senior analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai says many refugees will return in case of a final peace agreement between the Afghan Taliban and the US.

However, he said, most of refugees won’t go back as it is hard for them to trust the durability of peace in Afghanistan given their previous history. He said Pakistan is benefiting from cheap Afghan labour. He said Afghan traders also pay taxes to the Pakistan government and help its economy. He said the return of Afghan refugees will have mixed impact on Pakistan, however, the crime rate will definitely go down.

‘Afghan refugees enjoy full rights’

Director Afghan Commissionerate Fazal Rabi said the registered Afghan refugees enjoy all the rights like Pakistani citizens.

He said no separate legislation has been done for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Afghan refugees in Pakistan used to get food package from the World Food Program until 1995. When this package ended, then the refugees started finding work in Pakistan and stood on their own feet. The refugees need no licence for business in Pakistan and they can move freely to any part of the country. He said the Pakistan government always takes decision about the refugees in consultation with the Afghan government and the UNHCR.

He said voluntary return of the refugees will always be facilitated, but no refugee will be forcibly repatriated even after the peace agreement in Afghanistan.