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November 27, 2018

Govt urged to form special parliamentary committee to resolve refugee crisis


November 27, 2018

Hailing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s humanitarian statement considering granting citizenship to Afghan refugees and stateless people living in Pakistan, speakers at a consultative meeting on Monday urged the government to adopt a refugee policy informed by legal principles outlined in international refugee conventions and to form a special parliamentary committee on the refugee crisis.

The Society for Human Rights and Prisoners’ Aid, (SHARP), an Islamabad-based organisation working on the protection of Afghan refugees, organised the consultative meeting on citizenship rights to Afgahn children and stateless person. Formers senators and politicians Afraisab Khattak and Farhatullah Babar were key speakers.

Speakers said Pakistan had always been sincerely supporting and contributing towards the solution strategy for the longstanding issue of Afghan refugees. They voiced their concerns about the ad hoc manner in which policies relating to refugee matters had been formulated in Pakistan.

Liaquat Binori, SHARP’s chief executive officer, said his organisation was organising consultative dialogues to brainstorm to share views and seek support from the organisations and relevant stakeholders for providing support to the government on the issue to discuss a durable solution to the most protracted refugee situation in Pakistan in light of the refugee management policy adopted by the federal government in February 2017 and the prime minister’s recent statement.

“Everywhere in the world, the refugees’ issue has widely been discussed, but in Pakistan, where the issue is in its worst situation, no one discusses it and explores a doable solution of the issue,” Binori said.

Khattak said the crisis had become severe in the past 40 years in Pakistan. He said that during the 11 years of General Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship, they welcomed Afghan refugees and did not make any state policy towards them. “Even after that, consecutive governments did not make any policy and regulation about refugees,” he said.

Karachi has been affected mostly by the refugee’ crisis and it was mainly because of lack of planning, he said, adding that concerns of Balochstian’s political parties were genuine because they were afraid of becoming a minority on their own land.

Babar emphasised a political solution with humanitarian principals and said policies on the refugee issue should be formulated beyond the interests of a certain political party, group or individual.

“Pakistan itself is a product of a refugee crisis and today the issue has become very complex. The sad part is the Pakistan instead of resolving the refugees’ crisis has not acknowledged the issue.”

Babar also discussed the issue of people who had been forced to relocate because of climate change. “Now we are seeing migrants of climate change in Balochistan, but it will expand in the near future,” he said, calling for systematic efforts to prevent internal displacement or, as far as possible, mitigate its impact in situations of displacement caused either by conflict or by natural disasters.

Babar also highlighted the plight of Bengali and Rohingya fishermen of Karachi. Ali Palh, prominent lawyer and human rights activist, said: “It is high time the government adopted a refugee policy informed by legal principles outlined in international refugee conventions.”

Mazhar Abbas, senior journalist, said language and identity had been made a political issue in the country and political parties instead of resolving the issue were doing politics on the issue.

He said that during the sixth national census in Karachi, refugees – whose population would be around four million – were not counted. Ghazanfar Ali Agha, commissioner for Afghan refugees, said his department had not received any policy regarding the refugees.

Several challenges in dealing with issues of refugees emerged from the discussion: lack of government policy and dearth of statistics about the refugees and stateless people in Pakistan, the absence of a legal framework, the country’s non-signatory status on international conventions protecting refugees, lack of inter-provincial coordination and concerns and fear of host communities.

They also agreed that channels for open debate and discussion about policies and frameworks related to the Afghan refugees needed to be increased. Independent civil society organisations, whether through institutional advocacy initiatives or mass media, must raise the level of debate by drawing on the views of a wide cross section of stakeholders.

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