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With Refugees Comes Crime

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Afghan refugees arrested for murder in Pakistan. © Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, May 4 2014 (IPS) - Blaming Afghan refugees for a surge in crime, Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has placed restrictions on the movement of those who do not possess legal documents to stay in the country.

“We are facing a rising incidence of crime, not only in Peshawar but in all the 25 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to the presence of Afghan refugees. We have to restrict their movement to apply a brake on murders, thefts and kidnappings for ransom,” Superintendent of Police Najib Ullah tells IPS.

The restrictions mean Afghan refugees without legal documents cannot go to marketplaces.

Najib says the provincial administration had also written to the federal government to check the entry of Afghans through the neighbouring Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) located on the border with Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has requested the Afghan government to tighten security near border areas to stem the tide of crime in Peshawar,” he says.

About five million Afghans migrated to Pakistan after Russia invaded their country in 1979. Initially, they lived in camps set up by the government, but gradually they melted into the local populace.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, Pakistan is still home to 1.6 million Afghans, but police say about an equal number live in the country illegally.

“Those who have Proof of Registration Cards are traceable but many of those living illegally have criminal records. They are the ones who commit murders and flee to Afghanistan,” he says.

Najib says Afghan involvement has been proven in 45 percent of the crimes in Peshawar.

Pakistan has time and again allowed Afghan refugees to extend their stay despite local businessmen, politicians, law enforcers and intelligence outfits demanding that they be expelled.

Police say Afghan criminals are particularly active in Peshawar and Quetta.

“Last year, 614 people were killed in the province but investigations could not make much headway as in most cases the assailants slipped away to Afghanistan,” Ajab Khan, an official of th Special Branch police tells IPS.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,400 km border.

The government checks only eight formal routes. About 50,000 people who are said to use less frequented routes everyday are not checked, according to Special Branch police.

Muhammad Ikram, station house officer at Nasirbagh police station tells IPS that the area under his jurisdiction primarily has Afghan refugees, many of whom live illegally.

“In April 2013, three local residents were killed by an Afghan who fled to nearby Jalalabad (in Afghanistan) and was later arrested. Forensic evidence proved him to be the killer.”

Early in 2014, the Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court Justice Dost Muhammad Khan banned illegal mobile phone SIM cards originating in Afghanistan, as these were used in 90 percent of crimes committed in Peshawar.

Afghan SIM cards are freely available in Pakistan.

Dr Muhammad Irfan, who was kidnapped from Hayatabad area in Peshawar Jan. 14 and released after the paying of a ransom, told police that he had been receiving calls from an Afghanistan number before he was abducted.

“I was kept in Hayatabad itself. On the day of my release, I called home from my kidnapper’s mobile phone to ask them to fetch me,” he told police.

His wife, who thought her husband was somewhere in Afghanistan, was taken aback when he reached home 10 minutes after the call. Afghan SIM cards had been used from within Pakistan.

The government has failed to hammer out a modus operandi in relation to a Solution Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) which seeks to facilitate the repatriation of Afghan refugees by December 2015.

Police chief of the northern Pakistani province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Nasir Durrani, tells IPS that they had made it mandatory for all Afghans to register with police stations in their areas. “All landlords have been directed to inform police about their Afghan tenants,” he says.

The government has also decided to register and tax all businesses run by Afghans, including restaurants, shops and vendors. Exit and entry points are to be set up on the premises of refugee camps to check their movement.

More than 50,000 Afghan students are enrolled in Pakistani seminaries, and the government has very little information about them, officials say. There is also no data about businesses being run by Afghan refugees in Peshawar or other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, they say.

In December 2013, a regional committee which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UN called for the closure of all illegal Afghan markets and also empowered police to conduct random checks for Proof of Registration Cards in cities.

Traders claim that government rules strictly prohibit the entry of refugees into the city, the owning or hiring of houses and the use of mobile phones, but say that the administration is not interested in implementing the law.

Peshawar Division Commissioner Munir Azam says Afghans have been involved in the killing of religious scholars of different sects, kidnapping and extortion.

“We are taking measures to increase coordination among the administration and law enforcement agencies in Peshawar in order to plug incidents of extortion and kidnapping,” he tells IPS.

Afghan refugees say it is not fair to give the entire community a bad name.

“The main reason for our stay in Pakistan is lawlessness back home. We are poor people. Pakistan is our second home and we abide by its laws,” Jamal Zada, a teacher at a school for Afghan refugees in Peshawar tells IPS.

“There may be criminals among the refugees, but we are ready to help the government to bring them to justice,” he says.