ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan plans to cancel refugee status at the end of this year for the 3 million Afghans who are living in the country, officials have told McClatchy, leaving the refugees facing possible forced resettlement in their homeland, a war-torn country that many of them barely know.
Pushing the refugees into Afghanistan probably would create a new crisis for that country, which already is struggling with an insurgency, an economy almost entirely dependent on the U.S-led foreign presence and the illicit drug trade, and the impending withdrawal of foreign combat troops by 2014.
Officials in Pakistan, which has hosted Afghan refugees for more than 30 years – one of the longest-running refugee problems in the world – say that “enough is enough” and are resisting entreaties by the United Nations and others to reconsider the decision. It comes as Islamabad’s relations with Western countries, particularly the United States, have soured over its policies in neighboring Afghanistan and the unannounced U.S. raid on Pakistani soil that killed Osama bin Laden last year.
Pakistan’s top administrator in charge of the Afghan refugee issue, Habibullah Khan, the secretary of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, said Islamabad wouldn’t change its decision.
“The international community desires us to review this policy, but we are clear on this point. The refugees have become a threat to law and order, security, demography, economy and local culture,” Khan said in an interview. “Enough is enough.”
One such refugee is Rangeen, 28, who goes by only one name, as is common in Afghanistan. He’s lived in Pakistan since he was 12 and is a registered refugee. Three times he’s tried to move back to his native Kabul, the Afghan capital, but he’s found it too costly to live there.
“I couldn’t find work in Kabul, and it is very expensive there, so each time I was forced to come back” to Pakistan, Rangeen said. “I’m just a laborer. It is not possible to survive in Kabul on what you make as a laborer there.”
Rangeen earns around 200 rupees a day, about $2, by working as a porter at a wholesale vegetable market just outside Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, pushing cartloads of produce around for buyers. His determination not to go to Afghanistan is all the more striking given the difficulties of life in his adopted home. None of his four children go to school, nor do any of the other children in Sorang Abadi, the makeshift village where he lives, a 15-minute drive south of the capital.
Looking at his 7-year-old son, Noor Agha, Rangeen said: “He will suffer the same fate as me. All he’ll be able to do is push a cart.”
Villagers in Sorang Abadi pay about $15 a month in rent for just enough land to construct one ramshackle room, from baked mud, and keep a small yard. There’s no electricity or running water; they fetch water from a timber yard about 15 minutes’ walk away. They haven’t been able to find space at a semiofficial refugee camp that’s about four miles away.
Mukhtiar, a 40-year-old from Baghlan province in the north of Afghanistan, which is considered relatively safe, said he’d been in Pakistan for 30 years.
“We won’t go to Afghanistan. There is nothing but war,” he said. “After the Russians got out, the Americans came. Whatever we had back there has been taken over by others. There is no work, no property, nothing there except feuds.