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Minister demands repatriation of Afghan refugees from Sindh

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Imran Ayub

KARACHI: The Sindh government on Thursday asked Islamabad to make final arrangements for the repatriation of Afghan refugees living in the province as it could no longer host immigrants who were a “key source of violence and crime” mainly in Karachi.

The strong reaction came from an important member of the Sindh cabinet, who demanded that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government in the centre take immediate measures so arrangements could be made for the return of Afghan refugees. However, the Pakistan Peoples Party minister did not mention any particular reason for his demand.

“Sindh is not an orphanage,” said Mohammad Ismail Rahu, the provincial agriculture minister. “Some 2.5 million illegal immigrants and aliens are living in Karachi. We have here Burmese, Afghanis, Biharis, Bengalis and Africans. We are already facing our own issues. If the federal government wants illegal immigrants to stay in Pakistan, they should be settled in Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

The federal government had decided to extend the stay of registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan till June 2020, marking 40 years of Afghan displacement and Pakistan’s exceptional humanitarian assistance.

The decision of extension in their stay was announced during Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan in June last year. Prime Minister Imran Khan was said to have informed the Afghan president about the extension in the current deadline that ended on June 30, 2019. Before that the federal government had issued various deadlines for the Afghan refugees to leave the country, but the deadlines were often long-term and not enforced because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees always insisted that any repatriation should be voluntary.

From December 2015 onwards, the federal government set short-term extensions for the Afghan refugees. Though Mr Rahu did not mention any reason for the fresh demand from the Sindh government, to support his arguments, he levelled serious allegations against the immigrants and refugees living mainly in Karachi.

“Majority of the immigrants are involved in criminal activities,” he said. “They should be sent back to their countries. The illegal immigrants are also the main cause of unrest and unemployment in the city [Karachi]. The Sindh government on the completion of duration of stay of Afghan immigrants has decided not to extend their duration of residence and send them back to their country.”

The PPP minister accused the National Database and Registration Authority of exploiting the situation and the crisis had opened a window of opportunity for the federal organisation’s officials to “make money” due to the presence of the aliens and illegal immigrants in the country.

“But our interior minister is unaware,” he said. “The laws meant to streamline aliens and their population in the country must be implemented. The federal government should share data with the Sindh authorities showing the number of foreign immigrants, who have been registered over the past several years. Over the years, the federal government has registered only 150,000 immigrants in the country. However, only a few years ago, the federal government had admitted that there are over 2.5 million immigrants living in Pakistan.”

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2020

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