World Refugee Day: IRC calls for renewed effort to assist Afghan refugees
ISLAMABAD: To commemorate the World Refugee Day, the international community should renew its commitment to helping the 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan as well as the local people with whom they have shared lives for more than 25 years, said a press release issued by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to mark World Refugee Day celebrated on June 20.
Hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and continued violence and insecurity has made it hard for them to return.
Aid agencies like the IRC have been providing assistance to refugees in Pakistan, while supporting repatriation efforts. These efforts have been expanded to include the development of local Pakistani communities who share their limited resources with the refugee population.
IRC Pakistan Country Director Mustafa Elkanzi said, “IRC has supported Afghan refugees in Pakistan since 1980. We remain committed to facilitating their safe and dignified return home. But we must also take a holistic approach to assist both refugees and their host communities to increase their self-sufficiency and promote peaceful co-existence.”
IRC’s strategy follows the United Nations High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) efforts to address the social, economic and environmental consequences on communities affected by refugees. The efforts aim at improving livelihoods, social services and living conditions of both Pakistani and Afghan communities, the press release said. UNHCR is working closely with the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and this cooperation has resulted in Pakistan giving official recognition to the refugee population by issuing special registration cards that will be valid for three years. This grace period will enable the three partners to develop a comprehensive plan to address the issues facing the Afghan refugee population. “The IRC fully supports the new UNHCR-led initiatives,” Elkanzi said. “It is time for the entire international community to renew its support for UNHCR, and to place renewed vigour on efforts by the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan to find durable solutions. Solutions that benefit the people of both countries and that pay particular attention to the needs of vulnerable people.”
IRC Pakistan programmes currently support more than 230,000 Afghan refugees in NWFP and Balochistan, providing facilities such as healthcare, education, vocational training, clean water, sanitation, psychosocial counselling and information about repatriation. Many of these services are already being extended to host communities and new programmes are designed to benefit both Afghans and Pakistanis.