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Friday, February 23, 2024  
12 Shaban 1445  

History & Law: Why Afghan refugees cannot become Pakistani citizens

Rich, prosperous countries are putting pressure on a poor country like Pakistan by keeping their country safe so that Afghan refugees are not sent back.
In this file photo, Afghan refugees make a roof for a mud house at a refugee camp. — AFP/File
In this file photo, Afghan refugees make a roof for a mud house at a refugee camp. — AFP/File

The problem of Afghan refugees in the region has become very important at this time. All international media organizations and human rights organizations are running stories almost daily in favor of Afghan refugees.

In a statement issued by the United Nations on the same issue, the world body did not oppose the repatriation of Afghan refugees but only said that Afghan refugees should not be sent back to their country “forcibly”.

UN Refugee Convention (Geneva) 1951, Refugee Protocol 1967 (in which refugee, protection of rights, and legal obligations of refugees are clarified) Pakistan is also not a signatory of the international convention in this regard. Therefore, it is not even the responsibility of Pakistan to follow international laws regarding refugees. Pakistan is not even bound to keep the refugees on its land under any international law. Hence, the United Nations cannot force Pakistan.

Why is Pakistan currently suffering from the problem of illegal immigrants? The main reason is that there is no coherent policy on illegal immigrants in Pakistan. There is no law in Pakistan that defines the word “Muhajiran” or “illegal immigrants”, or explicitly talks about their rights.

Foreigners Act 1946, Naturalization Act 1926, Pakistan Citizens Act 1951, and Citizenship Rules 1952 have been resorted to for the entry and residence of people from other countries in Pakistan. But among them, it is not entirely clear who is a foreign national who is a migrant, and how long he can stay in the country or become a citizen. But in 2021, Pakistan gave someplace to the principles set by UNHCR for refugees in its policy.

The Naturalization Act entitles children born in Pakistan to Pakistani citizenship but does not include Afghan refugees.

So those who are demanding that despite the passage of 40 years they have not become Pakistani citizens? Or children of Afghan refugees born here should be given citizenship.

On this basis, all such applications of Afghan refugees who applied for Pakistani citizenship were rejected administratively or judicially.

In 1980, the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) was formed by the central government in view of the first flood of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Under this the Chief Commissioner of Afghan Refugees was appointed in the four provinces. Its purpose was to help those working to help the Afghan refugees to work in an orderly manner.

When Afghans first started registering as refugees in Pakistan, the (unannounced) prerequisite was that they had to belong to one of the seven Mujahideen groups that were involved in fighting against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. These Afghan Mujahideen were supported by Pakistan. The main reason for this was to provide manpower to the seven groups of Mujahideen fighting against the Soviet Union.

But as soon as the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan stopped registering Afghan refugees. In 1992, the evacuation of Afghan refugees was started. Afghan refugee camps were closed.

This is not the first time that Afghan refugees are being asked to return to their homeland. Pakistan has hosted more than three million Afghan nationals for over forty years. At time when the Mujahideen, which later became the Taliban, ruled Afghanistan, there was no war situation in the country. Even after forty years, if the Afghan refugees are being asked to go back to their homeland, the voices of “human rights” start coming from all sides.

Pakistan itself is currently facing severe financial difficulties. Hosting such a large number of people from another country is not an easy task.

According to the report of the International Organization for Migration, there are 2.84 million Afghan refugees. In 2017, 840,000 Afghans were given Afghan citizenship cards with the support of UNHCR.

In June 2016, international organizations offered to pay 400 dollars to each Afghan refugee family returning to their homeland, and sent many families back, but UNHCR decided to give 400 dollars to repatriate Afghan families in December 2016. The program was closed. Because word came out that several families took $400, entered Afghanistan and returned after a few months.

Pakistan had also given a final date of December 2017 to the Afghan refugees to return to their homeland during this period. Despite repeated requests and financial assistance from the United Nations, Afghan refugees are not ready to return home. But the world is putting pressure on Pakistan not to send Afghan refugees back.

On the other hand, the same forces, including the European Union, refused to grant political asylum to Afghans. According to records, at least 350,000 Afghans applied for political asylum in various European countries, but their applications were rejected.

Rich, prosperous countries are putting pressure on a poor country like Pakistan by keeping their country safe so that Afghan refugees are not sent back. Afghan nationalist parties, including right-wing and left-wing parties, are increasingly opposing the return of Afghan refugees to Pakistan.

The international forces should consider the economic situation of Pakistan, the situation, not only for the Afghan refugees but also the problems of the people of Pakistan, and help Pakistan to send the Afghan refugees to their homeland with respect.

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Afghan refugees

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