Most Pakistani refugees return home
KHOST, 28 February 2008 (IRIN) – Most of the Pakistani families that had fled sectarian violence in Pakistan by seeking refuge across the border in southeastern Afghanistan earlier this year have returned to their homeland.
“When peace is restored, we too will return,” said Khan Malik, who along with 16 other family members arrived two months ago from the village of Bakzai across the border in Kurram Agency, in Pakistan’s increasingly volatile Federally Administered Tribal Areas. He is currently in Afghanistan’s Khost Province.
“There is a peace agreement, but it’s not clear whether it will hold,” the 30-year-old said, referring to ongoing clashes between Shia and Sunni extremists just weeks earlier.
Most of the nearly 5,000 Pakistanis that had initially sought refuge in Afghanistan in early January have since returned. “Of the old caseload of Pakistanis, the vast majority have since returned,” Nadir Farhad, information officer for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Kabul, told IRIN on 27 February.
His comments come after an Associated Press report on 19 February said the number of Pakistanis who had fled had risen in recent weeks to about 10,000.
“That was really a response to some of the turmoil that was taking place inside Pakistan and the people there understood that their lives potentially could be better if they were in Afghanistan,” US army Col Jeffery Johnson was quoted as saying.
But according to the UNHCR that does not appear to be the case: “The UNHCR is not aware of any new arrivals,” Farhad said.
Over 100 families still in Paktia Province
According to local authorities on the ground, of the 593 families that had arrived in southeastern Paktia Province, just 125 now remained – in the districts of Jaji and Dand-e-Patan – while in neighbouring Khost Province, of the 201 families there, just one was left.
Pakistan, particularly the country’s North West Frontier Province, has been struck by a wave of militant activity against the government and security forces over the past year, and it was a recent outbreak of sectarian violence that prompted many families to flee across the border.
Most of the refugees were ethnic Pashtoons – elderly people, women and children – who had sought refuge with local people and/or had set up tents, Din Mohammad Darwish, a government spokesman in Paktia, told IRIN at the time.
The government of Afghanistan and its people generously responded to the Pakistani families that fled sectarian violence in early January, Farhad said.
The UNHCR, in conjunction with the government and other UN agencies, responded by providing food and non-food related relief items, he added.
Millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan after the December 1979 Soviet invasion, where they lived as refugees for decades – a fact duly acknowledged by the Afghan government.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on provincial authorities to repay the hospitality they had received by providing the families with relief supplies.
According to the UNHCR, there are some two million registered Afghans still living in Pakistan today.