Afghan refugees in Pakistan reluctant to return home
Samiullah Abdullah, 12, is among the several thousand grandchildren of the Afghan war, who are seeking refuge in Pakistan.
His parents were born in Pakistan in the 1980s, when then Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in what followed a nine-year-long war.
"I have never been to Afghanistan. I know nothing about my country. But people here call me an Afghan," he said.
Abdullah is among the 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan whose fate hangs in the balance after Pakistan refused to extend their duration of stay for another year.
In a meeting chaired by Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the capital Islamabad on Wednesday, it was decided that the validity of their residency documents, called Proof of Registration cards, will only be extended for 30 days -- after which they will have to return to their home country.
The issue will be raised with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the international community, said a statement released after the meeting.
"Pakistan's economy has carried the burden of hosting Afghan refugees since long and in the present circumstances it cannot sustain it further," it added.
- 30-DAY EXTENSION TO STAY
The Ministry of State and Frontier Regions, which deals with the influx of Afghan refugees, had proposed a one-year extension but it was denied, a ministry official told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
He said security concerns were raised at the meeting.
"Terrorists who cross borders from Afghanistan and carry out attacks in Pakistan mostly hide in refugee camps," he said.
Authorities in Pakistan have maintained for long that the refugees should be repatriated. However, this is the sixth time their stay in the country has been extended.
The decision has spread fear among Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and many have restricted their movements outside their camps.
"We were expecting extension for another year, however, this unexpected decision has confused us," Malak Sana Gul, an elder of the community living in Islamabad said.
"I was born here. People in Afghanistan call me a Pakistani. They don't accept us," said Abdul Qadeer, a 23-year-old refugee.
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The UNHCR has expressed its concern over the decision saying it may affect millions.
"There are nearly 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan who face an uncertain future," Qaiser Khan Afridi, spokesman for UNHCR Pakistan, told Anadolu Agency.
Over a million unregistered Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan, often occupying low-rung jobs, while 4.2 million have been repatriated since 2002, according to the UN.
Pakistan's Foreign Office said in a statement that the international community should create pull factors in Afghanistan and pave way for refugees to return to their homes soon.
"Pakistan has hosted Afghan refugees for over three decades with dignity and honor. We have never created any push factors. We always requested the international community to create an atmosphere for them in Afghanistan to return to their homes," Mohammad Faisal, spokesman for the Foreign Office told reporters on Thursday.
The move comes as Pakistan treads a rocky patch in its relations with the U.S. -- currently fighting its war on terror in Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the U.S. announced it will suspend all security assistance to Pakistan, after U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted earlier this week it had "foolishly" given billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, which in return had allegedly provided safe havens to terrorists fighting in Afghanistan.
Pakistan denied the charge, and maintained that it has always borne the brunt of the war in Afghanistan.