Afghan Refugees are Being Helped Around the World : Muhammad Amir Siddique

Respected audience, you know that whenever I have picked up my pen, I have always talked about humanity Peace and human compassion. Afghan refugees, So that is my topic today. In the same way that the Afghan refugees are being helped around the world, Austria is also offering a lot of its services, which is a tribute. Because I am a Pakistani journalist and I have my eye on this subject. How to serve humanity and my messages reached the people so that they can know the truth.

As a journalist I want to tell you today what is the reality and how Pakistanis are working with their brothers and family Afghans and showing love and respect. Pakistan Committed to Host Afghan Refugees with Dignity and Honour. Decade’s long instability/ war in Afghanistan since USSR’s invasion in 1979 triggered calamity of Afghan Refugees influx in neighboring countries especially in Pakistan. Pakistan hosting approximately 5 Million refugees while among them 3 Million are Afghan Refugees who are residing in different places all across Pakistan.

Pakistan is the largest host country of Afghan Refugees for last 4 decades who is neither a signatory to UN Convention relating to Status of Refugees 1951 nor to the Protocol relating to Status of Refugees 1967. Hosting Afghan refugees is an exemplary and unprecedented initiative by Pakistan to support vulnerable Afghans despite her own economic and security challenges. UNHCR report mentioned that following Taliban return to power in Afghanistan, around 1.1 Million new Afghan Refugees moved to Pakistan. People and Government of Pakistan are hosting Afghan Refugees with honour and dignity. Afghan Refugees have been allowed great flexibility and a lot of freedom while living in Pakistan. Registered Afghan Refugees have the liberty to move anywhere in the country, have access to health and education in private and public institutions and are easily able to access employment opportunities throughout Pakistan. Generations of Afghan Refugees that grew up in Pakistan greatly benefited from the opportunities and resources given to them by the Government of Pakistan.

Multiple initiatives have been undertaken to extend the maximum possible facilities aimed to ease the stay of Afghan brethren:-Till 2006, Afghan Refugees in Pakistan were not having any legal documents, in 2007 Pakistan strived to integrate Afghan Refugees; registration of Afghan Refugees was divided into 3 categories; 1.4 Million Afghan Refugees are having Proof of Registration (PoR), allowed them access to government primary/ secondary education with health facilities in Public Health Centers. 0.8 Million hold Afghan Citizen Card (ACC), legalized Afghan Refugees without granting them Refugee status giving them liberation of move, work/ business freedom and access to higher education. More than a Million undocumented Afghan Refugees are also living in the country.

Afghan Refugees registered with both UNHCR and Government of Pakistan-run Commissionerat for Afghan Refugees, can be enrolled in any school. 18 % of Afghan Refugees girls also enrolled in different schools. As per UNHCR 51 % of Afghan Refugees aged 6 to 17 years are enrolled; of those, 43 % Afghans in private schools, 23 % in Pakistan public schools, 25 % in refugee village schools and 9 % in other schools (Pakistan’s private schools or religious schools). Admissions for higher education are granted on seats allocated by Higher Education Commission (HEC); every government institution for higher education at college and university level reserves 2 seats for refugees and only for Proof of Registration (PoR) cardholders.

Currently, around 7000 Afghan students are enrolled in graduate/ post graduate programs across Pakistan. In Sep 2022, Pakistan offered 4500 new scholarships to Afghan students in field of medicine, engineering, agriculture, management in M Phil/ PHD level. 8250 Afghan Refugees graduates, under graduates and teachers acquired training from Pakistan Ministry of Education Training Programs. Proof of Registration (PoR) card holders allow to be self-employed; majority are concentrated in 4 industries which includes carpet-weaving, fresh fruits, heavy machinery and honeybee keeping. Alongside, Afghan Refugees also take part in working and business class community by setting up small- and large-scale businesses.

All Afghan living in Pakistan including Proof of Registration (PoR) card holders, Afghan Citizen Card (ACC) holders and undocumented Afghans have access to health services at primary, secondary and tertiary level hospitals. UNHCR and Global Compact on Refugees reported in Dec 2021, registered Afghan refugees (PoR cardholders) are entitled to access to Pakistan’s healthcare system ‘on a par’ with Pakistani citizens. Registered Afghan Refugees have been included in government health programs such as immunization campaigns, tuberculosis (TB) con, and HIV prevention/ treatment. Moreover, women refugees residing in refugee villages reportedly have ‘good access to reproductive health services.

On 13 Aug 2021, Alien Registration Card (ARC) launched by government of Pakistan allowed opening of a bank account with any bank in the country and starting of their own business From Nov 2021 onward, Proof of Registration (PoR) cardholders can buy mobile SIMs. UNHCR operating in nine Advice and Legal Aid Centers (ALACs) providing free legal aid to persons of concern (Proof of Registration cardholders) in Country’s main refugee-hosting areas. Pakistan has always been manifesting strong resolve, generosity and sincerity to host the Afghan Refugees merely considering it as its own responsibility. Alongside, UNCHR has also been rendering assistance in these efforts. Lately, UNHCR in collaboration with Government of Pakistan also launched a one-time cash assistance scheme for approximately 1.3 Million Afghan Refugees affected by devastating 2022 floods. UNHCR Regional Director, Mr Indrika Ratwatte appreciated Pakistan’s effort and said felt honoured to work with a long standing partner Pakistan to support Afghans. The purpose of hosting the Afghan Refugees was to provide them with asylum space until the situation in Afghanistan became conducive for their repatriation.

Unfortunately, the crises enters into 5th decade and yet the situation remains apprehensive in their home country forcing them to remain in exile. At the end, I would like to draw attention of international community towards the Afghan Refugee’s issue being a global responsibility and warrants focused international attention/ consideration which has been substantially diluted over a period of time. People and Government of Pakistan deserves a helping hand while they continue to be generous and committed to host despite being their meager resources. What I wrote today involved a lot of my research. Pakistan has been generously hosting Afghan refugees for the past few decades and the international community should acknowledge this. What more can we do?۔

BY: Muhammad Amir Siddique
(Journalist Vienna Austria)