Feature: Afghan refugees in Pakistan hardly dream of peaceful homeland

BY APD NEWSJun 20,2017 at 17:58

By APD writer Muhammad Sohail

ISLAMABAD, June 20 (APD) -- During the scorching hours of sunshine in the suburbs of Pakistani capital Islamabad, a 48-year-old Afghan national Gulab Khan wearing shabby attire was pushing a handcart for scrap collection to earn his livelihood. It’s almost 37 years he came to Pakistan as a refugee, but now he has no plan to go back because he has stopped dreaming about a peaceful homeland.

An overall view of a refugee camp in the outskirts of Pakistani capital of Islamabad on June 20, 2017.

An overall view of a refugee camp in the outskirts of Pakistani capital of Islamabad on June 20, 2017.

“Why should I go back, to be killed or put my family in danger? Nothing has been changed there, my lovely country is still in the same condition where my elders left it, a land full of unrest, lawlessness and fear of death. When I was young, I used to be excited and hopeful to go back, but now I think it’s not possible for next many years,” Gulab told APD on Tuesday.

Gulab’s father and grandfather migrated to Pakistan in 1980 along with their families following the start of Soviet war in Afghanistan.

Gulab is thankful to Pakistan for hosting them for decades, but his biggest concern is that they could not remove the tag of refugee from them which is hindering their free progress.

“We have no identity, we were refugees three decades back, and same is now. My grandfather was a refugee, same is with me and now with my children. We know we have no future here, but no choice. People doubt us as militants, and police disturbs us. I can bear this, but don’t want to put my family in trouble in Afghanistan,” said gloomy Gulab.

Afghan refugee children search valuables from garbage in the outskirts of Pakistani capital of Islamabad as world observes World Refugee Day on June 20, 2017.

Afghan refugee children search valuables from garbage in the outskirts of Pakistani capital of Islamabad as world observes World Refugee Day on June 20, 2017.

Gulab is one of the 1.45 million registered refugees living in camps and urban centers across Pakistan for over 35 years.

A large number of Afghans rushed to neighboring Pakistan after the Soviet Union’s invasion in 1979 and later when U.S.-led NATO forces attacked Afghanistan in 2001.

According to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Pakistan continued to host the largest number of refugees in the world, nearly all from Afghanistan.

The report said Pakistan had generously hosted the world's largest refugee population for more than three decades, and it was essential to mobilize more support from the international community.

The UNHCR claimed to have helped 4.1 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan return home since 2002, the largest repatriation in the world.

The World Refugees day was observed in Pakistan on Tuesday with an aim to pull international attention to enhance the efforts to make their life better and to focus on resolving militancy issue at their home.

Commending Pakistan’s response for hosting millions of refugees for a long time, the UNHCR representative in Pakistan hailed Pakistan for providing facilities to the refugees for such a long time.

The UNHCR in collaboration with Pakistan trying to repatriate Afghans, but uncertain law and order situation and shortage of basic amenities in Afghanistan have slowed down the procedure.

Another Afghan refugee, Muhammad Arshad, who is living in a refugee camp near capital Islamabad also has no thinking of going back because he doesn’t want to restart his life from zero.

“I was born in Pakistan. No doubt, we are refugees here but we are in peace, our children and other family members are safe. Looking at the previous 10 years and the current situation, I don’t have any hope of improvement in Afghanistan.” said Arshad who works in a vegetable market as a laborer.

Since the launch of military operations against local and foreign militants in Pakistan in 2014, Pakistani government also started a strict campaign against illegal Afghan refugees because many of them were found involved in terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

Gulab opined that foreign forces and local war lords are the basic culprit behind the sufferings in Afghanistan which finally affected millions of Afghans.

“We were very happy to listen that Nato and the U.S. forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan, which might help Afghan gov’t convince militants to leave war and join the main stream, but the American did not fulfill their promise and now Donald Trump has once again sent more troops to Afghanistan. It will further deteriorate situation,” said Gulab.

However, both Gulab and Arshad hoped that one day in future their children or grandchildren will see their peaceful homeland filled with happiness and love. “But, when this time will come, we don’t know.”

(ASIA PACIFIC DAILY)

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