There are 1.5 million registered and about as many undocumented Afghan refugees in Pakistan, with growing insecurity in Afghanistan impeding voluntary return programmes AFP/Aamir Qureshi
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, home for decades to millions of Afghan refugees, called for the support of the international community as it warned that without help, the flow of those fleeing Afghanistan’s decades-long war to Europe could increase.
After the Soviet invasion in 1979, “five million Afghan refugees came to Pakistan,” then with the support of the international community, said minister for border areas Abdul Qadir Baloch at a meeting devoted to Afghan refugees in the capital Islamabad Wednesday.
Thirty-seven years later, there are 1.5 million registered and about as many undocumented refugees, with growing insecurity in Afghanistan impeding voluntary return programmes.
Over the last decade, international support has vanished, the minister said.
Pakistan receives just US$5.20 per refugee per year in international aid to provide the displaced with healthcare and education – and that is only for those who are registered.
He denounced the meagreness of this aid compared to that provided to Turkey, which officially hosts 2.5 million refugees, including many Syrians.
However Western countries are now beginning to recognise the problem, he said, “because refugees are pouring into Europe and 30 percent of them are Afghans”.
“This percentage could increase,” he warned, stressing that there was a limit to Pakistani tolerance for the problem.
“The issue of Afghan displacement has been overlooked,” agreed high UN commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi at the same event. “We must strengthen the support to host countries.”
The refugee crisis in Europe, which is struggling to cope as millions try to reach its shores while fleeing war and poverty, “is a tragedy but also an eye opener: if you don’t solve problems which appear to be far away from you, these problems will come to you,” he warned.
Afghan refugees living mainly in camps in the poorest rural areas of Pakistan exist in administrative uncertainty because of the short duration of residence permits issued by the Pakistani authorities, who regularly threaten to deport them.