Financial respite for lifelong refugees

  • Legally registered Afghans permitted banking activity

Military invasions, civil wars, ethnic and religious hatred, persecution, imperialist land grab under the guise of sacred sanction, have all contributed possibly to the greatest number of ‘eternal’ refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons around the world today, from Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria and Myanmar, among others. The worldwide refugee figures released by UN High Commissioner for Refugees on World Refugee Day, June 20, 2019, mention a staggering figure of 68.5 million forcibly displaced persons. This cold statistic, when viewed from the purely human angle, hides unimaginable pain, anguish and suffering, uncertainty about future and contempt faced by refugees in primitive makeshift camps. For their courage, indomitable spirit and perseverance, they deserve the world’s sympathy and unstinted moral and material support.

Pakistan has confronted a massive humanitarian Afghan refugee crisis since 1979, and though accurate statistics are notoriously dicey in this environment, the UNHCR reported 1.38 million registered refugees in Pakistan and at least a million undocumented ones living mainly in KP and Balochistan in 2018. The huge refugee population has had a chequered stay, bad times and worse, many have married here and brought up children, been involved in some meagre business or badly paid, because illegal, private employment. At times, especially after the Peshawar Army Public School massacre of December 2014, fingers of suspicion were pointed at refugee camps and many families were forcibly pushed out under the UNHCR facilitated ‘voluntary’ repatriation, in the dangerously high risk, war-torn Afghan homeland, which drew much global condemnation and led to postponing the refugees’ date of return yet again.

The PM’s decision on Monday, self-confessedly late in coming, permitting registered Afghan refugees to open bank accounts in Pakistan, conduct transactions and to participate in the formal economy, has, unsurprisingly, been universally welcomed by Afghan refugees’ councils. While this may not create even a slight ripple in KP economy, it is possible that unregistered refugees may at least be attracted to submit to documentation, as outright citizenship is a controversial issue demanding political unanimity. Hopefully the PM’s move, the first ray, will lead on to the light at the end of the tunnel for suffering Afghan refugees, through negotiated settlement achieved in ongoing US-Taliban peace talks.