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Our camps aren’t terrorists’ sanctuaries: Afghans to Pak govt

Muhammad Nadeem-PESHAWAR: Afghan refugees living in various parts of Pakistan are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea because Islamabad has given them six months to wind up everything and go back to their home country. It is difficult for the refugees to wind up their business, sell their properties at a reasonable price, and settle financial matters with Pakistani partners in such a short time span.

Afghan refugees found themselves in troubled waters when the home minister of Balochistan province, Sarfaraz Bugti, alleged that terrorists involved in ‘subversive activities’ were hiding in the refugee camps.

Addressing a press conference in May, he said, “We have had enough. Either the Afghan refugees can return voluntarily with respect and dignity, or the people of Balochistan can humiliate them and throw them out of the country.”

His press conference marked one of the most turbulent times in stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan as the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) also launched crackdown against refugees, both registered and unregistered. Chief Minister of KP, Pervez Khattak, repeatedly urged the federal government to send back the Afghan refugees or “accommodate them in Punjab”.

Earlier, in a meeting with the UNHCR officials, Pakistani authorities had denied to extend the stay of refugees in the country. Pakistan had decided to send all the refugees back to Afghanistan by the end of this year. The decision forced many refugees to sell their properties and businesses at cheap price. Seeing the repatriation of Afghan refugees in a short time as a golden opportunity for business growth, the real estate agents in Pakistan have put the refugees in a difficult situation.

Brushing aside the accusations that militants and ‘spies’ are hiding in camps of the Afghan refugees, Haji Arsala Khan, an elder of the refugees, said that their camps are not terrorists’ sanctuaries. “We are peace-loving people. We have no room for extremism and terrorism. We mind our own business. Afghans are the worst victims of terrorism and wars. We want to see peace and stability in the region,” he said adding that the refugees are living in these camps in peaceful manner for decades.

Afghan refugees are respecting the laws of the land, and never supported those involved in subversive activities, he said, adding the refugees have contributed to development of Pakistan.

Arsala Khan requested the Pakistani authorities to extend Proof of Residency cards of the registered refugees so Afghans could settle their financial matters and issues with their Pakistani partners.

Arsala Khan also addressed a jirga (council) held at Peshawar Press Club on the issues faced by refugees in the country where he also lambasted the Afghan government for not paying attention to their problems.

Expressing concerns over growing insecurity in his home country, he said the repatriation process should be started after peace and stability returned in Afghanistan.

In the jirga Afghan refugees, living in different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, asked Pakistan to extend their stay for two years as they are facing problems in selling their properties and winding up their businesses which they had established after decades of hard work.

They said the extension will give them sufficient time to sell their businesses and properties at a reasonable price.

Around 250 refugees and their elders, belonging to nine refugee camps, asked the central and provincial governments to resolve their major problems including settlement of disputes over properties and businesses with their Pakistani partners before they leave for their home country.

They talked about problems faced by Afghans in the province and inattention of the Afghan government. They also protested near the Afghan Consulate, saying the Afghan authorities have not assured the returnees of their resettlement. They said that leaders in Kabul were not taking steps to resettle the returning Afghans.

Addressing the Jirga, Haji Arsala Khan said the refugees were grateful to the people and government of Pakistan for hosting them for over three decades as brothers.

“Education, health and other basic facilities in the country were available to Afghan refugees without any discrimination. Afghan refugees were also given opportunities to set up their businesses. Now we want to repatriate to our home country with dignity,” Khan said.

But, he expressed concerns over lack of time to wind up their businesses in Pakistan to take fresh start in Afghanistan. “We want to wind up our businesses here before leaving for Afghanistan. However, it is impossible in such a short time [six months],” he lamented.

Referring to a report of the United Nations, Haji Arsala Khan said that around 1.5 million Afghans were displaced by war. “Will Afghanistan be able to accommodate the returnees if they all went back within six months,” he asked.

Asking the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan to create a suitable environment for return of Afghan refugees, Khan said that public health and education sectors in the country are in poor condition while unemployment rate is high.

Haji Sherzada, another representative of the refugees at the jirga, said that the debtors refused to pay them as they understand the refugees are going back because their stay in Pakistan would come to an end in December this year.

He said that the creditors are also harassing them for returning their money. Sherzada suggested that the government of Pakistan should establish a body to help the refugees to settle their issues and financial matters with Pakistani partners.

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