Pakistan Tries to Send Refugees Home to Afghanistan

The shift brings new perils to the volatile border region.

Some 2.1 million Afghans are believed to be still living in Pakistan, according to the UNHCR.

Some 2.1 million Afghans are believed to be still living in Pakistan, according to the UNHCR.

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However, independent sources say that many subsequently returned to Pakistan in the wake of fighting between NATO troops and Taliban militants in southern and northeastern parts of Afghanistan.

"I have no plans to risk my and my family's life by going back to Afghanistan", says Afzaal Khan, whose shop was demolished. Instead, he says he will try to shift to some other city of Pakistan.

Khan says when he came to this camp in 1980, there were only a few hundred refugees taking shelter here. "Now over 70,000 refugees are living here, and almost half of them have never seen Afghanistan," he says.

Fareedullah Khan, the Afghan Commissionerate official, disputes that claim. "Most of them have a house there [in Afghanistan]. Some members of their families live here in Pakistan, while some of them live there," he says.

A UNHCR spokesperson, Rabia Ali, says that the agency provides assistance only to those refugees who agree to repatriate or to those deemed too vulnerable and register themselves for relocation to another camp. Some Afghans say Pakistani authorities try to prevent Afghans from moving elsewhere in Pakistan.

Afghan refugees are often viewed as a security threat and are involved in street crimes in Pakistan. According to Peshawar police, Afghan refugees are involved in 30 percent of the street crimes in the North-West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan. Intelligence agencies claim that Taliban militants are hiding in and operating from the refugee camps.

Ishtiaq Ahmad, an associate professor of international relations at Quaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad, questions the decision to uproot the refugees. "One thing is for sure: Only a few will return to Afghanistan. Most of them will be spread out in other urban centers. And it will strengthen the security quagmire, as it will be very difficult to monitor them," he says. "It's surprising to me why the government has taken such an illogical and unpractical decision. They [refugees] will never return to Afghanistan as [the] security situation is not that conducive there," he added.

Sardar Alam Bacha, who owns a small utility store in the Saddar market area of Peshawar, thinks that the refugees should not be kicked out of the country in a humiliating manner. "This is against Islamic and Pashtun [tribal] traditions. If they want to leave voluntarily, then it is OK," he says. "But if they can't go back because of the poor law-and-order situation there, they should be allowed to stay for some more time."