In 2015, Pakistan took over the chairmanship of the Heart of Asia process, which aims on the one hand to promote cooperation between the states in the region and, on the other, to support Afghanistan. The reconciliation process within Afghanistan is to be promoted; In July 2015, delegations from the two governments, the USA and China, met with representatives of the Taliban for official talks in the Pakistani city of Murree. The two changes in the top management of the Taliban within one year (through the death of Mullah Omar and the murder of his successor) and further serious terrorist attacks in both countries have led to renewed tensions and have a negative impact on the process of understanding.
Pakistan announces forced repatriation of Afghan refugees
According to ezinereligion, the Pakistani government announces at almost regular intervals that all Afghans still living in Pakistan have to leave the country. The ultimatums are then extended just as regularly. Such a threat was issued in 2013, but was withdrawn in response to international pressure. The requests are justified as anti-terrorist measures. For some time now, the Afghan diaspora in Pakistan has been exposed to increased discrimination, violence and arbitrariness by the authorities. Political observers assume that crisis-ridden Afghanistan cannot adequately support and care for those returning. The corresponding aid budgets of the humanitarian organizations have almost been used up – the country would face a humanitarian emergency.
According to information from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), around 540,000 Afghan refugees left Pakistan in 2016. Despite the difficult security situation in Afghanistan, many Afghans decided to return in order to avoid possible measures in Pakistan. Spokespersons for human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch point out that Pakistan is bound by international law that prohibits the forced return of recognized refugees. IRIN quotes a UNHCR statement: “The return of registered Afghan refugees from Pakistan is a repatriation under non-ideal circumstances and the result of various factors. The Afghans who choose to return every day are making an extremely difficult decision and the UNHCR is doing everything possible to support them. We will continue to stand up for the rights of Afghan refugees during their stay in Pakistan. ”
A UNHCR spokeswoman announced that the UNHCR wanted to raise further funds to secure the financing of the repatriation program. Around $ 2.2 million in cash would be paid out to 5,000 to 6,000 returnees every day. The number of Afghans returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan as registered refugees or migrants has skyrocketed since mid-July 2016. By the end of the year, the United Nations is forecasting the return of over 600,000 Afghans. In addition, there are around 400,000 new internally displaced people in Afghanistan due to current conflicts. According to the UN, the main trigger for the new wave of migration is a change in direction in Pakistan’s refugee policy. For decades, Pakistan hosted one of the largest refugee communities in the world. Around 1 live there to this day,
Until June 2016, Afghans did not need an entry visa for Pakistan. Effective June 1, 2016, Pakistan linked the entry of Afghans to the presentation of valid passports and entry visas. The border post in Torkham on the Khyber Pass is initially affected, but will then also be carried out at all other border posts. In Torkham 10,000 to 15,000 Afghans cross the border every day, and Afghan families often live on both sides of the border. At the Afghanistan conference in Brussels, the international community promoted greater financial support for returning refugees. It was only at the beginning of 2016 that the UNHCR doubled the grants for repatriation and reintegration to US $ 400 per capita on arrival in Afghanistan. More resources and efforts are required to train young Afghans as a basis for sustainable integration and for the country’s development. At a conference in November 2017, UNHCR and the Pakistani government agreed to extend the residence permit for the registered refugees by one year.
In the first few months of 2018 there was no longer any talk of this agreement. The Pakistani cabinet made the decision on January 3rd to send hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees back to their homeland. They should have 30 days to leave the country. The responsible ministry for states and border regions said that the cabinet decision had not yet been incorporated into binding guidelines. Relations between neighboring countries had deteriorated considerably recently and Pakistan was increasing the pressure on Afghans in the country. Afghanistan and the USA accuse Pakistan of supporting the Afghan Taliban and thus thwarting the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Observers consider the decision to be a defiant reaction to the recently voiced criticism – most recently in the form of a tweet from US President Trump that was received with great indignation. Earlier this year he attacked Pakistan for allegedly supporting the Afghan Taliban.
The Pakistani researcher Dr. Sanaa Alimia analyzes Pakistan’s refugee policy from the 1970’s to the present. She explains the precarious situation of the refugees as well as the background to the change of mood and direction in Pakistan and anticipates the developments that are currently emerging on the Afghan-Pakistani border.