Pakistan has an exemplary record of protecting and granting asylum for refugees for the last 37 years. Despite emerging crisis in Syria and other places, Pakistan still hosts the largest protracted refugee population. The government and the people of Pakistan have extended their hospitality and generosity primarily because of its heritage, traditions, and Islamic values and also for playing an important role for the international community. It’s a global public good that Pakistan has done in hosting refugees for so long. UNHCR has been in partnership for the last 37 years with the people and the government of Pakistan and has tried together with the international community, the government of Pakistan and Afghanistan to find solutions of Afghan refugees. Progress has been made but challenges also remain.
Uneven world response to Afghan refugees
“UNHCR’s priority in Pakistan is to achieve lasting solutions for one of the largest and most protracted refugee situations in the world” representative of UNHCR in Pakistan Mr. Indrika told Fire. Pakistan continues to host approximately 1.5 million refugees. Most are from Afghanistan and live in refugee villages and urban areas. Since March 2002, UNHCR has facilitated the return of approximately 3.9 million registered Afghans from Pakistan. “Our history of working with the Government of Pakistan stretches back more than thirty seven years when the first wave of Afghan refugees entered the country following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan” said Mr. Indrika.
Refugees are individuals who flee from wars, conflict and persecutions. The international community and UNHCR try to share that burden in two ways. One by supporting the host country and second to take individuals who can’t have protection or solutions in Pakistan to third countries for resettlement.
In any refugee situation particularly in such a large number, it has an impact on the host country. Today globally 65 million people have been displaced and 86% of this population is hosted by middle income and developing countries. It’s a global phenomenon.
Refugees must adapt to lifestyle in host countries
The highest refugee concentrations are in some of the poorest countries in the world. A large number of such movements are into Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The presence of refugees compounds the already prevailing economic, environmental, social and, at times, political difficulties in these countries.
“From the moment of arrival, refugees compete with the local citizens for scarce resources such as land, water, housing, food and medical services” he informed. Over time, their presence leads to more substantial demands on natural resources, education and health facilities, energy, transportation, social services and employment. They may cause inflationary pressures on prices and depress wages.
Host country national and regional authorities divert considerable resources and manpower from the pressing demands of their own development to the urgent task of keeping refugees alive, alleviating their sufferings and ensuring the security of the whole community
“Host governments expect, at the very least, that the international community will help compensate for the costs incurred in providing asylum for the refugees” UNHCR’s representative said. There are commonly complaints that refugees have added to security problems in general and crime rates, theft & murder.
The number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.
UNHCR in full support of Pakistan in refugees operation
Representative of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Pakistan Indrika Ratwatte said that the commission is working with Pakistan and Afghanistan for early repatriation of Afghan refugees.
During the interview with Fire, he urged the international community and donors to support Pakistan as it is the biggest host of protracted refugee situation in the world. Indrika Ratwatte said UNHCR is facilitating voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees and their return is being monetized for their sustainable reintegration in the Afghan society. He further said UNHCR also supports sustainable reintegration in the Afghan society, while the third pillar of its strategy is to support the host community like Pakistan till complete repatriation of all the refugees. He lauded the Afghan and the Pakistan governments for documentation of the Afghan refugees to avoid any difficulty in future.
UNHCR’s activities towards voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and efforts to empower refugee youth in Pakistan through provision of vocational training and technical skills which will benefit Pakistan’s economy boost with their contributions. ID programs for some of the 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan are being slashed amid the worst funding shortfall for a generation.
The exodus of people from countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan is forcing U.N. officials to cut programs like infant feeding, education, and sanitation for refugees in Pakistan. Ratwatte underlined the important role of education in the rebuilding of post conflict countries and notes that “Empowering Afghan Youth through education and skill development is building the human capital of the future Afghanistan. Helping Afghans return home and empowering them to rebuild their lives and communities is key to stability in Afghanistan and the entire region” he said.
Burden or Blessing? The impact of refugees.
Simultaneously, refugees can bring assets to the hosting area. Refugees indeed bring skills and knowledge with them that can be utilized to the benefit of local people. These skills vary, but do often include those of the more educated group, such as health professionals and teachers, who, even in limited numbers, can make a significant contribution in remote areas. An additional range of skills that can be brought by refugees may include an enterprise culture which can stimulate the local economy or offer innovative agricultural techniques previously unknown to the host areas.
“But now, increased international solidarity and burden sharing are essential to offer hope and opportunities for Afghan refugees,” Mr. Indrika added. “This means giving them the tools needed to not only rebuild their own futures, but also ensuring that they are able to contribute to the reconstruction process of Afghanistan, once they return home.” International community today reaffirmed its commitment towards seeking lasting solutions for millions of Afghan refugees, in a bid to end one of the longest displacement situations in recorded history.
Nearly 12 million innocent people are in need of humanitarian assistance and an entire generation of children is at risk. Syria is in ruins and its people are on the run from a nightmare that seems to have no end. Millions are trapped inside Syria in dire condition. Millions of others have overwhelmed neighboring countries and their numbers and needs grow daily. The worst part is that 5.6 million are children.
UNHCR is still on the ground coordinating a massive refugee response throughout the region and leading efforts to protect and provide shelter for those displaced inside Syria working across conflict lines to provide critical aid under extremely dangerous circumstances.