Pakistan is not holding back in its mission to send back Afghan refugees. Indeed, the process is well underway with the registration of up to one million, all of whom had been hitherto undocumented.
In the short-term, this is a welcome move. As has been noted by the UNHCR, the United Nations agency for refugees. The logic goes something like this: the granting of an Afghan Citizen (AC) card will prove identity and therefore safeguard the refugees against the constant fear of deportation or arrest.
But this is not the whole picture.
For in reality, the AC serves as a modern day scarlet letter of sorts. Meaning that it indelibly marks an entire community, making it so much easier for Pakistan’s law enforcement agents to restrict freedom of movement within this country’s national borders. It also singles out a community as being perpetually on the verge of repatriation to a war zone across the border; and one that has been on fire for a long drawn out 16 years. A war zone that in the first six months of this year has seen, according to the world body itself, a record high in civilian deaths, including children. Just yesterday, Kabul was struck by another bomb blast at the hands of the Taliban. It may or may not be significant that this coincided with the first anniversary of the devastating attack on the Hazara community that left 84 dead. The latter was the first ISIS-claimed atrocity in that country.
Thus the documentation process is anything but a humanitarian act. However much the Pakistani state and the UN may pretend otherwise. Indeed, it is a move by both parties to effectively wash their hands of an entire community.
Violence against Pakistan-based Afghan refugees has increased in recent years. Not least at the hands of our law enforcement apparatus that has long favoured the blurring of lines that distinguish Afghans and Pathans from known militant outfits. Yet the civilian leadership also bears a certain burden of responsibility. As does, we have to say, the UN. At least at the policymaking level. We are aware of and appreciate the hard work carried out by world body staff on the ground here and next door. Having said that, the UNHCR funding for repatriated refugees has been slashed in half, to currently rest at $200 per individual. The Afghan government last year launched a drive to encourage its refugees to return voluntarily and participate in the peace and reconstruction process. Yet even then, it rightly decried the staggeringly low stipend of $400.
We understand that Pakistan has been housing refugees for many decades. But we have said it before and we say it again: there is little point in taking in a people if the cost of that hospitality is being robbed of dignity.
Daily Times, July 25, 2017