Naturalizing Afghan refugees a pragmatic solution for security issues


ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a dialogue lauded Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement in Karachi to offer Pakistani citizenship to Afghans born and raised in Pakistan and said that the move certainly gave hope to thousands of Afghan refugees stuck in the limbo of their identity and affiliation crises and a pragmatic solution for security issues in Pakistan .

The dialogue was organised by Afghan Studies Center on this issue here on Wednesday, bringing together the youth from Pakistan and Afghanistan to discuss the vulnerabilities these Afghans face and what the process of naturalization could mean for such people.

They said that refugee crisis is one of the most critical challenges of our times as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) statistical data shows that 71.4 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide during 2017.

Similarly, they stated that every minute, 20 people were forced to flee their homes in 2016.

PM Imran Khan noted in his speech that a lack of official documentation has pushed many refugees towards black-market labor or petty crimes and their naturalization could address many such issues. Certainly, PM Khan’s decision to naturalize Afghan refugees appears to be a pragmatic solution for many of the security issues, is also long due, but above all, a strong gesture of goodwill from Pakistan.

However, as the subject is open for a debate in the parliament currently, the final decision is yet to be taken.

Dr Farhan Yousaf said that migration and refugees were also considered as one of the biggest global risks, but Pakistan continues to host one of the largest number of refugees for the last forty years. However, he said that Pakistan does not have any concrete policy for Afghan refugees.

He apprised the youth that different governments have held different stand-points, but a proper policy has never been formulated in this regard. What PM Khan’s announcement has done is that it has initiated a discussion nation-wide which will hopefully lead to a concrete policy for Afghan refugees, at least, he added.

Makki Kakar, a PhD scholar conducting research on the issue, said that instead of strict border control and restrictive migration policies, naturalization could provide a human-rights based approach to address vulnerabilities of the refugees.

He stated that nevertheless, there is always a trade-off between human security and state security. Therefore, there should be a balanced approach but not at the cost of humanity.

There are about 2.7 million Afghans, including 1.5 million registered as refugees, residing in Pakistan, according to UNHCR and local officials. UN surveys suggest that of these around 60 per cent of Afghan refugees were either born in Pakistan or were minors when their parents migrated to Pakistan.

They said that war-shattered Afghanistan is therefore alien to most of these young people who are already part of the local economy and culture.

No refugee community in the world has enjoyed a longer and more extensive stay in a country than Afghan refugees have in Pakistan.