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June 23, 2019

Without a home


June 23, 2019

Every minute, somewhere in the world, 25 people leave their homes, becoming refugees in other lands near or far away. Their lives are altered forever. The UNHCR, as it marked World Refugee Day on June 20, noted that currently there are 70 million people around the world who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Twenty-six million of these hold the status of refugees. But whether or not this status has been granted to them, many of these people live in constant peril and uncertainty. Pakistan today remains the world’s second largest host country for refugees, with a population of 2.3 million Afghan refugees living within its borders. Of these, 1.4 million are registered. The others live without record and without official status. Many of the Afghans have been here for generations, but even now their status in Pakistan is an uncertain one with Pakistan granting them temporary status as residents after tripartite discussions over the past three years with Afghanistan and the UNHCR. Pakistan would like to see the Afghans return. There is still enormous pressure on them, with complaints from the refugees that they are periodically picked up, notably in Peshawar, as criminals or drug peddlers. They have also been accused of involvement in terrorism.

But we forget the reality. The Afghans we willingly let into our country in 1979 have faced huge discrimination, huge risks and miserable housing conditions. Today, even those who have married Pakistanis do not necessarily have the status of citizens. The prolonged problem continues, and the still unstable situation of Afghanistan means many are reluctant to a return to a homeland they have never known. The arrival of cricket in Afghanistan, which is currently competing in the 2019 World Cup, comes from the refugee camps and the long association of that country with Pakistan.

Around the world, refugees need help. Uncertainty, poor housing, lack of acceptance in host societies and blatant discrimination make their lives difficult ones. But even from this misery, individual refugees have been able to rise and win a claim. Novelists Khalid Hosseini from Afghanistan and Viet Thang Nguyen from Vietnam have won prizes for their extraordinarily sensitive works of fiction. Yusra Mardini from Syria today swims for the refugee team and will be participating in the 2020 Olympics. She began her plunge into swimming while pushing a boat carrying dozens of people across open water. There are many others who have battled the odds and succeeded in their respective careers. Their courage deserves mention. But it cannot disguise the fact that for many refugees around the world, life is a constant struggle. Their plight and their helplessness need to be acknowledged with sympathy rather than hostility.

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