Bangkok, 10 February 2017
On 8 February 2017, Pakistan state media reported that Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan have had their legal stay extended until the end of December 2017. The previous deadline for Afghan refugees to return to Afghanistan was 31st of March 2017. While this extension is welcome news to the international community and refugees themselves, it does not provide this vulnerable group with the long-term certainty of residence or protection that they require.
Afghan refugees have been residing in Pakistan for a prolonged period of time, some for as long as thirty years since the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. A second wave of refugees arrived in the early 2000s following the military invasion led by the United States of America. The current registered population sits at about 1.3 million people with another estimated 2 million unregistered Afghan refugees.
APRRN’s Deputy Secretary General Julia Mayerhofer explained that, “without a doubt, the Pakistan Government has been a generous host of Afghan refugees for many years, providing them a place of safety and sanctuary. This is an undisputed fact. However, the Pakistan government must understand that the security situation in Afghanistan is precarious at best and people should not be forced to return until they are ready.”
Proof of Registration (PoR) cards issued to registered refugees provides a level of legal protection and allows cardholders to reside in Pakistan. Historically however, the cards have only ever been issued with a validity of one or two years. This provides refugees with very little stability and creates a life of uncertainty and worry. Without long-term legal status, refugees are in constant fear of being sent back to a place where their life might be in danger and are unable to live their life in a dignified manner.
Imran Khan, Programme Director at Human Rights Alliance, a Hyderabad based non-government organization, described this move by the Pakistan Government as a positive step forward in refugee protection. “The Afghan refugee population requires our support more now than ever. In saying this we must not only be giving them breadcrumbs. We must give them robust long-term support and protection until it is safe for them to return to Afghanistan safely and with dignity.”
APRRN calls upon the Pakistan Government to ensure that refugees within their borders are provided residence well past the 31 December 2017 deadline. Especially in current times when we are seeing the largest ever number of forcibly displaced people, the Pakistan Government should take a long-term approach to refugee protection and extend the PoR cards until at least the end of 2018 or beyond. Anything shorter than this will only further create worry and undue vulnerabilities for this already vulnerable group of people.