SHAFAQNA -The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has arrested at least 2,000 illegal Afghan refugees in Peshawar as part of a crackdown in the province. The KP government had asked the unregistered Afghan refugees to get themselves registered by June 30. The crackdown has been launched ahead of the expiry of the deadline for registration. The KP Police said search operations were under way and over 2,000 illegal Afghan refugees had been arrested so far.“Around 950 illegal Afghan immigrants were arrested from the Cantonment area, 350 from the Peshawar city and 700 Afghans have been arrested from the city’s rural areas,” the police said, adding that the arrests have been made during operations carried out over the past month. At least 400 Afghan settlers have been deported to Afghanistan.
Adviser to Chief Minister on Information Mushtaq Ghani said the province cannot bear the economic burden of Afghan refugees any more. The 15 lakh registered and presumably an equal number of unregistered refugees no doubt create problems for the economy and security while they also disturb the ethnic balance in Balochistan. While seeking their repatriation there is a need not to lose sight of the diplomatic and humanitarian issues involved. Despite the current differences Afghanistan is a close neighbour.
The KP government has to realise that unless there is collaboration between the two countries it may not be possible to get rid of the scourge of terrorism in the near future. The presence of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan also ensures that the Afghan government does not take hostility against Pakistan beyond a certain limit. The Afghan refugees find it difficult to return to their country on account of the ongoing civil war and terrorist attacks over a sufficiently vast area. The UNHCR has introduced a voluntary repatriation programme with monetary incentives for the families opting to leave for Afghanistan.
The evacuation under the plan is however too slow. The government has been putting pressure on the Afghan government to repatriate its citizens at the earliest. Mindful of the ground realities, however, it has been extending their stay from time to time. While the Afghan government had asked for a further extension of four years the prime minister has reportedly agreed to six months for all Afghans refugees to return.
One hopes the Afghan government and UNHCR would complete the evacuation by the date announced. Pakistan has hosted Afghan refugees for over three decades. Both the federal and the KP administrations need to ensure as much as they can that the refugees do not leave in bitterness, forgetting as a result the hospitality extended to them over the years.