Pakistan could emulate Iran over the influx of refugees


• High-level team visits Tehran to study the Iranian model
• Minister rules out border opening with Afghanistan
• Officials fear that new influx may fuel sectarian outfits

ISLAMABAD: With the withdrawal of American and NATO troops from Afghanistan entering its final phase and the Taliban making further territorial gains, an influx of refugees into Pakistan seems inevitable. But this time, Islamabad does not seem to be in favor of opening the border and is instead ready to examine the “Iranian model” if the situation calls for it.

“We have decided not to open our border to refugees; the aid organizations can also help those in need on the other side, ”said Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed dusk.

“But if the situation worsens, we will establish settlements along the border under strict control and surveillance and prohibit refugees from entering the mainland,” he said.

“The government would even follow the Iranian model to lock refugees in these camps and manage them effectively,” he added.

According to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there were around 800,000 Afghan refugees in Iran, but they were all set up by Tehran in the 1980s along the border areas with Afghanistan and prevented from settling in cities and towns.

Read: UN ready for more displaced Afghans after troop withdrawal

Meanwhile, a senior government official confirmed that Prime Minister Imran Khan raised the issue during his phone conversation with Iranian-elect Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday evening.

Prime Minister Khan congratulated Mr Raisi on his victory in the recent election but expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, saying its effects could be felt in both Pakistan and Iran.

“During their discussion on Afghanistan, both sides agreed to work on the Iranian model,” the official said, adding, “it has been decided that a high-level team made up of officials from the Ministry of Interior, security and other relevant departments” will visit You soon Iran to understand the successful implementation of the model. ”

In addition to several small trading points, there are currently two important border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan – Chaman in Balochistan and Torkham in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Most of the border with Afghanistan is fenced, making illegal movement difficult.

On the other hand, the chief commissioner for Afghan refugees Saleem Khan said the situation at the border is not alarming at the moment, but if it worsens, international and donor organizations will inform Islamabad.

Mr. Khan said that while Pakistan was not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1967 Refugee Protocol, the country was still a responsible neighbor and had received over three million Afghan refugees for more than four decades.

“It is also a commendable achievement that there has been no tension between locals and Afghan refugees in Pakistan; All refugees are treated equally in government hospitals and educational institutions in Pakistan, ”said the chief inspector.

“There are even international cricketers in Afghanistan who have learned the game in various Pakistani sports academies and centers,” he added.

Saleem Khan believed that a comprehensive policy needed to be developed after taking all stakeholders, including the provinces, into the trust.

In conversation with dusk, Officials from various provinces and even Gilgit-Baltistan expressed concern about the arrival of Afghans in their areas but declined to be named.

“Our greatest fear is that the Afghans could increase the strength of the sectarian terrorists suppressed by the army,” said an elected representative of the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly.

Similar views were expressed by a cabinet member in the Sindh government, who said that most of the refugees would arrive in Karachi, but the city’s public facilities were already overburdened with law and order problems in many areas.

On the other hand, a senior government official said that while Pakistan is concerned about the humanitarian problems facing the region, including Afghanistan, several other factors need to be considered.

“We need to keep our economic, political, social and security issues in mind before making a decision,” the official said, adding that the decision did not allow Afghan nationals fleeing the fighting to enter can be viewed in isolation.

On the other hand, sources in the security facility said there were other concerns in the current scenario as well.

“Opening the border could facilitate the movement of Pakistanis who want to support the Taliban either as fighters or in logistics,” said a security official.

He cited as an example how even women from Pakistan tried to travel to areas controlled by the militant Islamic State Group in Syria and Iraq.

“This is leading to the spread of violent religious extremism in the country,” the official said, adding that the security establishment also cannot ignore the fact that large numbers of arriving Afghans may be unemployed and interfering in the politics of ultra-nationalists in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, like the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM).

Meanwhile, UNHCR Pakistan spokesman Qaiser Khan Afridi said the agency was in the country to assist the government in the event of an influx of Afghans.

He said the UNHCR is “closely monitoring the situation in the region and hopes that peace and stability in Afghanistan will be fully achieved through dialogue”.

Khan said, “A political solution should be preferred rather than conflict, but there is a risk of further displacement and we must be prepared.”

Pakistan is home to around three million Afghan nationals, 1.4 million of whom are Proof of Registration Card (PR) card holders, followed by around 850,000 Afghan nationals and up to half a million unregistered people, mostly living in remote areas of Pakistan menial jobs or were nomads or shepherds.

Posted in Dawn, July 6, 2021


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