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Pakistan Pledges Not to Push Out Afghan Refugees

The number of returnees under the program has dropped drastically this year to only 6,000 from around 60,000 in 2015

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Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Image source: www.en.rahapress.af
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  • There has been a police crackdown on the Afghani refugees in Pakistan
  • The Pakistani Government said that they have no intention of pushing the Afghan refugees out of Pakistan
  • Pakistan has extended the stay of registered Afghan refugees for another six month, a day before the June 30 deadline was to expire

Recently, there has been a report of a police crackdown on the Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Pakistan government is encouraging them to return to their country. An official of the government had clarified that they did not intend to force them to return home but are merely encouraging them to do so.

A police crackdown in Pakistan has rounded up and deported hundreds of Afghan refugees in recent weeks. But authorities say Afghans with legal refugee status are not being targeted, nor will they be pushed out of the country.

The arrests have mainly taken place in the northwestern border province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which hosts most of the estimated 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees, in addition to a sizable number of illegal settlers, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Many of them have fled persecution and armed conflict in Afghanistan.

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An Afghan border policeman takes position following clashes with Pakistani forces on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan in eastern Nangarhar province, June 15, 2016. Image Courtesy : VoA
An Afghan border policeman takes position following clashes with Pakistani forces on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan in eastern Nangarhar province, June 15, 2016. Image Courtesy : VoA

Monitoring the border

The crackdown coincides with stepped up Pakistani calls for the international community to help in the repatriation of Afghan refugees, citing security concerns and financial constraints for hosting them for more than three decades. It also comes at a time when relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have deteriorated because of border tensions.

“We have hosted them for over 30 years, it is time for them to return home in conditions of dignity and honor,” said Tariq Fatemi, Pakistani prime minister’s key aide on foreign policy matters.

Free to go

But he clarified the government is encouraging Afghan refugees to return to their home and has “no such intention of pushing them out or coercing them out.”

“But we are convinced that many of these refugees, particularly those who are undocumented, they could be harboring militants and others, and creating a law and order situation,” he said.

Afghan refugees are seen at UNHCR’s Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Peshawar, Pakistan on June 23, 2016. Image Courtesy : VoA
Afghan refugees are seen at UNHCR’s Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Peshawar, Pakistan on June 23, 2016. Image source: Reuters

Afghan officials said on Wednesday, June 29, Pakistan has extended the stay of registered Afghan refugees for another six month, a day before the June 30 deadline was to expire.

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A UNHCR spokeswoman, Dunya Aslam Khan, said her agency has received no reports of any mass arrests or deportations of registered Afghan refugees. They are legally protected, she told VOA, and the agency is able to immediately secure release of documented refugees in case they are arrested.

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

During a visit to Pakistan last week, the UNHCR Chief Filippo Grandi dismissed Pakistan’s assertions that Afghan refugees have become a source of terrorism in the country.

In meetings with Pakistani officials, he stressed the whole refugee population must not be blamed or penalized if a few of them have been involved in criminal acts.

During his trip he also announced an increase in assistance packages for registered Afghan refugees families, who return to Afghanistan under the UNHCR facilitated voluntary return program.

The number of returnees under the program has dropped drastically this year to only 6,000 from around 60,000 in 2015. (VOA)

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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)