ISLAMABAD: Reacting to a recent report by Human Rights Watch concerning Afghan refugees, the Foreign Office said the assertions made therein were misplaced and removed from facts and realities on ground besides lacking objectivity.
According to a statement, the Foreign Office termed it exaggerated contentions and baseless allegations of coercion, which were particularly disappointing and irresponsible, being counter-productive to the objective of harmony and goodwill between the refugees and the host communities as well as the shared goal of dignified voluntary returns.
It was regrettable that on the whole, the report was devoid of the larger perspective and the historical context in which Pakistan and its people had been generous and gracious hosts to millions of Afghans for over 37 years now, the statement said.
“With dwindling international assistance and attention over the years, Pakistan had shouldered this huge responsibility largely on its own, providing shelter, education, health care and livelihood opportunities to our Afghan brothers and sisters despite severe strain on our limited resources,” the statement mentioned.
That hosting millions of refugees for a protracted period has had political, security, socio-economic and environmental implications could not be over-emphasized. As a host country, Pakistan’s exemplary role had been recognized and appreciated by the international community.
This had also been repeatedly acknowledged by Afghanistan and the United Nations including at the highest levels. Indeed the Government of Pakistan worked closely with the Government of Afghanistan and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees including under the framework of the Tripartite Agreement and the internationally endorsed Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR), which follow a holistic approach and an attainable roadmap for protection and durable solutions for Afghan refugees through regional and international cooperation.
It was pertinent to mention that voluntary repatriation was a shared priority, which together with sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan, and support to host communities constitute the three pillars of the SSAR. Pakistan believed that return of Afghans to their homeland in dignity and honour would go a long way in promoting durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.
There was a wide recognition as well in the international community on the imperative of addressing this protracted refugee situation. For years, led by UNHCR, and supported by Afghanistan and Pakistan, emphasis had been laid on creating the pull factors, socio-economic development and livelihood opportunities in Afghanistan to facilitate voluntary return and sustainable reintegration of Afghan refugees.
The importance of enhanced international assistance had been continuously advocated in that regard. We also acknowledge and welcome the ownership of the Afghan Government towards the displaced Afghans, especially the encouragement by the Afghan leadership for the refugees to return and the arrangements for their reintegration including land and other provisions.
These were among major factors contributing to increased repatriation witnessed in 2016. The enhanced cash grant, an initiative of UNHCR supported by Afghanistan and Pakistan, was a positive, necessary and rational step aimed primarily at catering to initial requirements to helpanchor the refugees who opt to return voluntarily.
In fact there was a need to sustain and diversify such initiatives, besides investing more in development programmes and livelihood opportunities in Afghanistan, for an environment conducive for voluntary returns, the statement said.
We expect and urge the members of the international community to step up and fulfill their obligations towards Afghan refugees through solidarity and burden sharing, it added. Notwithstanding any isolated or individual incidents, there was no policy of coercion on part of Government of Pakistan.
The Government also remains mindful of its responsibility to ensure security and vigil against suspicious elements, unlawful activities and the menace of terrorism, including through improved and regulated border management. Pakistan was committed to safe and voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees in the best interest of the two countries and the region.
The Federal Cabinet had just recently approved important decisions about Afghan refugees including extension of stay of registered Afghans till December 31, 2017, and renewal of the Tripartite Agreement on voluntary returns.
This testifies Pakistan’s longstanding commitment to welfare of Afghans and their dignified return to their homeland. We remain in regular touch with the Government of Afghanistan and the UNHCR with regard to all aspects of management and repatriation of Afghan refugees.
Meeting of the Tripartite Commission was scheduled in Islamabad on February 15. We hope the international community will also shoulder its responsibility towards a durable solution of the protracted Afghan refugee situation, the statement said. -APP