Non-Afghan refugees given right to work in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: For the first time, non-Afghan refugees in Pakistan have been given the chance to work legally.
“Refugees have no real status in this country, so this will give them protection against arbitrary arrest and deportation, and allows them to work,” a spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Jack Redden, told reporters in Islamabad. The status was given following an agreement between UNHCR and Pakistan’s National Aliens Registration Authority (NARA), established under the interior ministry in 2001. An agreement was signed in Islamabad on Tuesday between the UNHCR country representative in Pakistan, Hasim Utkan, and Muhammad Saleem Khan, the NARA director-general, and this will be reviewed after an initial three-month period. “These people have to earn their livelihood, and by giving them a permit they will not be exploited by their employers,” Khan told reporters from Karachi.
Pakistan has not signed the UN convention on the status of refugees or the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The country has no specific refugee law, despite being home to more than three million refugees, and many of the existing laws undermine the right to asylum. According to Mr Khan, there are 2.5 million non-Afghan refugees in Pakistan at present, of which 1.2 million are Bangladeshis. The process for allocating permits under the new agreement will start with the registration with NARA of some 1,000 refugees, of whom 37 percent are Somalis, 23 percent Iraqis and 24 percent Iranians. Afghans are not included in this agreement as they come under the tripartite agreement, which provides for their repatriation over the next three years. “After this period is up, those who are allowed to stay in Pakistan will be screened to see if they fall into the same category,” Khan said.
Meanwhile, the first meeting of the tripartite commission dealing with the repatriation of Afghan refugees was held in Islamabad on Wednesday. The commission discussed a wide range of issues on the status of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and their reintegration into Afghan society. The body, comprised of two members each from the Pakistani and Afghan governments and UNHCR, is scheduled to meet every three months. —IRIN