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Message from UNHCR to Pakistan: Not All Refugees from Afghanistan are Terrorists

Afghans in Pakistan are the second-largest refugee population in the world, most having fled the Soviet invasion in 1979

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U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi talks to an Afghan refugee woman during his visit to the UNHCR's Repatriation Center in Peshawar, Pakistan, June 23, 2016. Image source-VOA
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  • U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi made remarks in Pakistan on the last leg of his three-nation trip
  • Amid other refugee problems, the world has lost sight of the plight of millions of Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan and Iran
  • About 6,000 Afghans have returned home this year from Pakistan, compared with nearly 60,000 last year during the same period

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN

The United Nations dismissed assertions made by Pakistan that Afghan refugees have become a source of terrorism in the country. They urged the government of the country “not to adopt rushed solutions” for sending the displaced population back to Afghanistan.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi made remarks in Pakistan about the last leg of his three-nation trip, which included Iran and Afghanistan, to remind the international community of the importance of solving the protracted Afghan refugee crisis.

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U.N. officials say that amid other refugee problems, the world has lost sight of the plight of millions of Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan and Iran.

Dwindling foreign assistance and rising terrorist attacks, they say, have also resulted in a concerted push from the Pakistan government to repatriate about 3 million Afghan refugees, including an estimated 1 million undocumented refugees.

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During his visit to a UNHCR voluntary repatriation center near Peshawar, Grandi addressed refugees’ fears that they are being made scapegoats after attacks or violent incidents in the country.

Afghan refugees. wikimedia commons
Afghan refugees. wikimedia commons

He said that in meetings with Pakistani leaders, he stressed that the whole refugee population must not be blamed or penalized for such actions.

“My appeal is that, not only to the authorities but also to the local population, refugees, as you know, are not terrorists. And if a few of them have been involved in criminal acts, then they should be prosecuted through due process, but according to law, like any other person,” the UNHCR chief said.

Calls for deportation

Afghans in Pakistan are the second-largest refugee population in the world, most having fled the Soviet invasion in 1979. But in recent months, public calls for their deportation have spiked in the wake of worsening relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The complication is that very often refugees get entangled in security situations besides being a component of a very complex relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is what makes matters very often more complicated,” Grandi said.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Nafees Zakaria on Thursday reiterated Islamabad’s concerns that Afghan refugee camps in the country have become “safe havens for terrorists.”

“There are still about 3 million Afghans in Pakistan. Besides having a bearing on the economy, some of the refugee camps have become a security risk as terrorists and militants use the camps as hideouts,” he said.

Pakistan has not yet announced whether it will renew the legal status of Afghan refugees due to expire June 30, which has raised fears and uncertainty among the displaced population. Grandi, however, said that in his talks with Pakistani leaders, he made the case for extending the deadline.

UNHCR officials say the number of Afghans voluntarily returning home has sharply declined this year, mainly because of an intensified Taliban-led insurgency and deepening economic crisis in Afghanistan.

About 6,000 Afghans have returned home this year from Pakistan, compared with nearly 60,000 last year during the same period, according to the refugee agency.(VOA)

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  • Vrushali Mahajan

    People should not judge Afghans in such manner. They left their land in search of a better environment. Pakistan should proudly protect these refugees

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20 Indians Killed In A Terrorist Attack In Afghanistan

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) condemned the attack

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Afghan firefighters clean up the site of a deadly suicide bombing near Kabul University, in Kabul, March 21, 2018.
Afghan firefighters clean up the site of a deadly suicide bombing near Kabul University, in Kabul, March 21, 2018. VOA

A suicide bomber targeted a group of Sikhs and Hindus, two Afghan minority communities, in Jalalabad city, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, on Sunday, killing nearly 20 people.

“They brutalized us. They have martyred 15 and wounded 15 other Sikhs. We are not aligned with any group or party. Why would anyone attack us? We never harmed anyone,” Tarlok Singh, a member of the Sikh religious minority, told VOA.

However, an Afghan health official told VOA the death toll was higher, with 19 people killed — at least 17 from the Sikh and Hindu communities — and at least 20 others injured.

The Sikhs and Hindus were reportedly on their way to attend a gathering led by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in the provincial governor’s office when a suicide bomber on foot detonated his explosive device.

Islamic State through its media wing, Amaq, took responsibility for the attack in Jalalabad city, however, the militant group claimed to have targeted a “medical compound.”

It is believed to be one of the first times a suicide bomber has targeted members of the Sikh minority group in Afghanistan.

“Unfortunately, it is the first time that our Sikhs become the victim of suicide bombing. The leaders of the group and their active community members were all killed or injured today,” Zabihullah Zimaray, a former provincial secretary general of Nangarhar province, told VOA.

Avtar Singh Khalsa, a longtime leader in the Sikh community, was among those killed in today’s suicide attack, an Afghan official told VOA.

Khalsa was an unopposed candidate running for the only seat for Afghan Sikh and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan’s parliamentary election in October.

Place where the attack took place
Map, Place where the attack took place. VOA

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) condemned the attack and called the attack on minority groups “… an obvious example of a war crime,” and asked the Afghan government to bring those responsible to justice.

“The Afghan armed oppositions must respect the international humanitarian laws and human rights values and refrain from targeting specific groups or individuals,” IHRC spokesperson Mohammad Bilal Sidiqi told VOA.

Discrimination

The Afghan Sikh and Hindu populations totaled about 220,000 in the 1980s. That number dropped sharply to 15,000 when the mujahedeen were in power during the 1990s and remained at that level during the Taliban regime. It is now estimated that only 1,350 Hindus and Sikhs remain in the country, according to an investigation conducted by TOLO news, Afghanistan’s most viewed private television station.

Discrimination is one the many reasons Sikh and Hindu minorities are fleeing Afghanistan, Anar Kali Hunaryar, an Afghan Sikh senator, told VOA in a previous interview.

“Discrimination has caused our children not to attend the mainstream schools and that is why most of our kids in Afghanistan remained illiterate and could not actively participate in their communities,” Hunaryar said during the interview.

Afghanistan is a predominantly Muslim country, but the constitution spells out equal rights to the followers of other faiths.

“The sacred religion of Islam is the religion of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Followers of other faiths shall be free within the bounds of law in the exercise and performance of their religious rituals,” reads Article Two in Chapter One of the constitution.

However, Rawinder Singh, a member of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu Union, who spoke to VOA previously on the topic, named “social discrimination” as the No. 1 problem religious minorities face in the country.

The Indian subcontinent is the birthplace of the Sikh faith, and India is home to the world’s largest Sikh population.

“Our fellow Afghans call us Indian and we are being told to go back to India. We are Afghans just like any other resident of this country. Yes, we follow the same religion as Indians, but it’s not rational to say that we do not belong to Afghanistan,” Singh told VOA.

Sikh and Hindu minorities mostly dwell in the south and eastern Afghanistan, and their numbers continue to fall.

Also read: Twin Bomb Attacks in Afghanistan’s Kabul Kills 25 , IS Takes Responsibility

“We were being treated ill and discriminated in the past, but today they badly brutalized us,” Tarlok Singh said, referring to the suicide bomber attack. (VOA)