ISLAMABAD: International aid groups that have been ordered out of Pakistan have warned that hundreds of thousands of victims of violence and natural disasters in the country might stop receiving life-saving assistance as a result of the move.
The federal government has ordered 21 foreign-aid groups to wrap up their activities and prepare to leave after they failed to re-register under tough regulations introduced two years ago, officials said on Thursday.
The officials said Open Society Foundations, the charity founded by George Soros, and the South Africa-based ActionAid were among the groups informed of the decision this week, without providing a complete list.
The international non-governmental organisations (INGO) have been given two months to close their offices and vacate the country.
Foreign aid groups contributed some $285 million in funding for development and emergency relief in 2016, and employ over 5,000 local staff, it said.
The government’s latest move against charities appears to be part of a drive that began two years ago against such foreign-funded groups, citing suspicions that some of them were being used as fronts for spying by Western countries.
Already expelled last month was the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, which was forced to close its last remaining facility in the tribal region along the Afghan border.
The doctors’ group warned that many victims of violence in the region would go without medical treatment as a result of the move.
The Interior Ministry has not said how the government will manage the humanitarian fallout from the expulsions.
Islamabad stepped up its monitoring after the CIA used a vaccination campaign as a front to gather information on Osama bin Laden ahead of the United States raid that killed him in 2011.
American Navy SEALs flew in on helicopters and killed bin Laden inside the compound where he had been hiding in the northern Pakistani city of Abbottabad after learning his whereabouts.
Save the Children denied the allegations, but a Pakistani doctor who Islamabad charges acted as a spy for the CIA while conducting a vaccination campaign remains in jail.
Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, which represents scores of foreign aid groups, says their work directly benefits about 29 million people in Pakistan. Foreign-aid groups contributed some $285 million in funding for development and emergency relief in 2016, and employ over 5,000 local staff, it said.
The Open Society Foundations first started working in Pakistan in 2005, providing $3 million of emergency relief for victims of a devastating earthquake. It provided another $6mn in emergency funds after severe flooding in 2010.