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Editorial: Facilitating returnees

After the Pakistani government announced on November 15th as final deadline for repatriation of registered and unregistered Afghan refugees, there has been manifold increase in the number of returnees. As many as 4,086 Afghans returned home from Pakistan via Torkham in the past two days.

According to spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, Islamuddin Jurat, among the returnees, 1,571 do not possess ID cards. Currently, returnees with ID cards are entitled to benefits such as cash assistance. The spokesman said that those who are without the ID cards would be introduced to the international refugees’ organization in Jalalabad to receive cash assistance.

Since the government and UNHCR know that many Afghan refugees in Pakistan are unregistered, therefore, they should facilitate the returnees without ID cards. Depriving them of cash assistance will be a historical injustice. Turning a blind eye to their problems will create serious challenges. In the near future the number of returnees could double if Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled out extending the deadline. A well-known Pakistani lawyer, Zulfiqar Ahmad Bhutta, filed a constitutional petition in the apex court to allow the refugees to say until December 2017. His case against the Pakistani government is strong but the civilian and military establishments are stronger. If he wins the case it will be news for Afghan officials and refugees to rejoice.

However, the ministry of refugees shall device its own comprehensive plan to facilitate the returnees. Many returning Afghans have complained that their lands had been grabbed by influential people. They also complained about lack of basic facilities such as educate and healthcare services. In many areas including Kabul City, people are forced to drink contaminated water. Moreover, the cash package they are receiving is not sufficient to build a house.

Keeping problems these problems in view, the government should give undivided attention to the challenges faced by the returnees. The officials should accelerate efforts to retake the lands allotted to the returnees but grabbed by influential people. It is duty of the government to provide shelter to the citizens. The townships for refugees should have all the required facilities such as potable water.

As the child refugees in Pakistan have studied in Urdu and English medium schools, the government should direct the relevant ministry to draft a new curriculum for them. It will be difficult for school, college and university students to adopt the existing education system and pursue their studies which are mostly in Dari and Pashto languages. Adjustment should not be sudden and a burden on the young returnees.

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