By Malik Siraj Akbar
Taimur Shah, 48, came to Quetta as a refugee soon after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. A resident of central Afghan city of Ghazni and the father of ten children, Shah lives in Pashtoonabad in the outskirts of Quetta. He earns his living by operating an auto rickshaw.
Keen to return to his native city, Shah cites bad law and order situation in Afghanistan as the main reason for his reluctance to return to his home country. “I would prefer to live as a refugee in Pakistan than to return to my country that is in control of United States forces.” he said. However, Shah is confident that one day he would return to his country.
A United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) report said that 20.9 percent of total Afghan in Pakistan are living in Balochistan, adding that around 74,061 refugee families, comprising of 444,719 people live in various refugee campus and settlements of Balochistan. It said that three quarters of the total of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan are below 28 years of age and that most of them were born in Pakistan. The report said that 83.3 percent of the registered Afghan refugees were Pashtuns and that same percentage of them was believed to be earning Rs 4,000 per month.
It said that 84 percent of Afghan refugees were unwilling to return to Afghanistan, as 41 percent of them cited security reasons, 31 percent complained about lack of shelter and 24 percent grumbled over lack of livelihood back home.
1.56 million Afghan refugees repatriated to their country in 2002 when some normalcy returned to their country “A lot of Afghans returned to their home in 2002, as they were desperately waiting to return to their after a prolonged war,” A UNHCR official told this writer.
In 2003, 343.074 Afghans were repatriated to their country, which was followed by 383.598 in 2004, 449,520 in 2005 and 133.015 in 2006. in 2007, 204,941 Afghans, who did not possess a Proof of Registration (POR), a legal document given by the government of Pakistan, which enables the Afghan refugees to legally live in Pakistan until December 31, 2009 were repatriated. There were 159,535 Afghans who did possess POR but they agreed to return to Afghanistan.
Presently, ten refugee camps in Balochistan are providing shelter, basic education and health facilities to Afghan refugees. These camps are located in Posti, Jejay Karez, Chaghi, Malgagai, Katwai, Gahzgai Minara, Kar Karez, Surkhab, Saranan and Mohammad Kheil.
With the resurgence of Baloch nationalism, the Afghan refugees have come under criticism of Baloch leaders, who say that the government was deliberately delaying the repatriation of Afghan refugees in order to cause demographic changes in Balochistan. They hold the Afghans responsible for the law and order situation and the influx of drugs and weapons in the province.
National Party (NP) leader Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch told Daily Times that the Baloch people played host to the Afghan refugees during the rainy days, adding that now that Afghanistan had its own government and peace had returned to the country, there was no justification for the stay of Afghan refugees.
Dr Baloch said that anti- Baloch forces in Islamabad were exploiting Afghan refugees for their own interests. He said, “Baloch are a very secular people. But the state is trying to radicalize them by promoting religious militancy,” he added.
The nationalists also accuse international relief organizations that are assisting the refugees of working on the agenda of super powers.
Baloch National Front (BNF) leader Sadiq Raisani recommends that the donor organizations should also assist internally displaced people (IDPs) of the province. He questioned, “If the UNHCR can work for the welfare of IDPs in Sri Lanka, why can’t it launch similar relief operations in Balochistan?”
Dispelling the impression that international relief organizations were doing noting for the welfare of the Baloch IDPs, a UN official said that UN could not intervene to assist IDPs until the government of Pakistan made a formal request.
The Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring centre (IDMC) quoted the UN sources as saying that 84,000 people in Balochistan were IDPs, who were driven out of their homes due to military operation carried out by the government in Marri and Bugti tribal areas.
Dr Abdul Manan, who recently led a team of eight doctors to Dera Murad Jamali to treat the IDPs despite government efforts to deny them access to them, told Daily Times that drastic measures were urgently needed to assist the IDPs. He said that the IDPs had to drink contaminated water. Dr Manan said that if international relief organization did not immediately reach out to the IDPs, a terrible humanitarian disaster might ensue.