Afghan refugees tell of their eviction from Pakistan

Afghan refugees tell of their eviction from Pakistan
The tent encampment near Jalalabad, Afghanistan  Photo: Franz J. Marty

For 35 years, Hoji Karim had eked out a living in the mountainous region of Pakistani Kashmir. Having fled the war in his native Afghanistan, the elderly man thought that, across the border, in the valleys of the lower Himalayas, he had finally found somewhere safe.

But two months ago that all changed.

"The Pakistani police came to our house and told us to leave," he said. "They threw all our things onto the street."

Afghan refugees tell of their eviction from Pakistan
The tent encampment near Jalalabad, Afghanistan  Photo: Franz J. Marty Photo: Franz Marty

Hoji Karim and his family knew they had no choice but to abandon their home in Pakistan, and cross back into their own country. Now, with no money to pay rent, they are living with 15 other families in tents. Their new home is a make-do settlement by the road which runs from the Afghan border post of Torkham to the city of Jalalabad, the first major settlement, 50 miles to the west. Their home region of Patkia is, in any case, too dangerous for them to return.

Hoji Karim's story is far from unique. Ever since the December 16 terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar – which Pakistan partly blames on Afghans – pressure on Afghan refugees in Pakistan has been rising.

Since the beginning of this year over 55,000 Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan – more than twice as much as in the whole of the 2014.

Afghan refugees tell of their eviction from Pakistan
The tent encampment near Jalalabad, Afghanistan  Photo: Franz J. Marty Photo: Franz Marty

Only a few of them – approximately 4,000 – belong to the 1.6 million officially-documented Afghan refugees in Pakistan. They are redirected to the UNHCR centre near Jalalabad, where they are interviewed, given medical attention, a mine awareness education and a repatriation grant of $200 each.

The rest, without documents, have a more difficult time. Crossing the border, they are registered and referred to the transit centre of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) close to the border, where they get a meal and a place to rest. But they usually travel on after a few hours. Due to limited resources, the IOM can only provide approximately 10 per cent of the most vulnerable – for example unaccompanied minors, the elderly, sick and mentally ill – with basic humanitarian assistance. The others have to fend for themselves.

"Pakistani officials should not be scapegoating Afghans because of the Taliban's atrocities in Peshawar," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "It is inhumane, not to mention unlawful, to return Afghans to places they may face harm and not protect them from harassment and abuse."

Afghan refugees tell of their eviction from Pakistan
The tent encampment near Jalalabad, Afghanistan  Photo: Franz J. Marty Photo: Franz Marty

The rate of spontaneous returns of undocumented Afghans increased from an average of 59 a day in 2014 to 651 in the 2015. An IOM official said that many of the unregistered Afghan returnees reported that they had left Pakistan to escape harassment following the Peshawar attack.

And the Torkham crossing, situated between rocky mountains on the road between Peshawar and Jalalabad, is busy. Every day, more than 30,000 people cross the border – among them many returnees. Most returnees arrive in lorries crammed with their belongings; the cheerful decorations of the lorries belying their difficult return.

Afghanistan's minister for refugees and repatriations, Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi, has appealed to his Pakistani counterparts to stop the forced evictions. He travelled to Pakistan and announced on March 14 that an agreement had been reached, with which Pakistan would stop deportations and instead register the undocumented Afghans in Pakistan.

Since then, the numbers of returnees decreased significantly. But it still remains high.

Last week Nursada, a vegetable seller, was one of them – arriving from Peshawar after 30 years living there.

"Why did I leave? The Pakistani police came to my house and told me to go" he said, proving that the agreement has done little to change the situation.

"Before, I sold vegetables from my cart in the bazaar of Peshawar.

"But now no one is doing business with Afghans."

Source : telegraph[dot]co[dot]uk
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