Afghan repatriation hailed by Islamabad landowners
By Mobarik Virk
ISLAMABAD: The repatriation of Afghan refugees from sectors I-11 and H-11 here in the federal capital has come as good news for property owners here.
Fifty-seven percent of the 140,000 Afghan refugees here were settled in the Afghan Basti. Those that were able to moved out to board in other parts of the city. Enforcement director CDA (Capital Development Authority) said it was “pleasing” to see Afghans return to their homeland.
Exits of refugees average 150 persons each day. But the CDA will face a problem dealing with the thousands of graves in these areas, many of them of refugees who perished from hunger and other causes. “We know this is going to be a problem,” the director said.
“We are following the old policy of maintaining sanctity of the graveyards and, obviously, we will not disturb these graves.” He added that some refugees took the remains of the dead with them. Once the areas are cleared of residents, the directorate of planning and design will step in and assess how best to deal with the situation.
According to the CDA director, 40,000 refugees from the Afghan Basti have returned to their homeland. Makeshift dwellings were allowed construction in light of the humanitarian crisis following the Soviet invasion in 1979. Many of the camps spilled over into sector I-12 as well.
By the late 1980s, Afghan refugees had become concentrated in these areas and the federal police had its share of problems maintaining law and order here. The Basti became a den for all sorts of arms running and narcotics trade. Seven policemen were killed in the line of duty trying to keep order in these sectors. Lately, these Afghan areas have come to be known as Sohrab Goth.
The situation has changed now. CDA has the run of things in the area, which has 20,000 homelike structures. The repatriation efforts are being led by the UNHCR and all refugees are turning over their properties to the CDA that is promptly demolishing them. Until Saturday, some 4,000 structures had been razed.
“People who had bought land in these areas in the open auctions,” the director told Daily Times had been pressing the authority to take action against the illegal occupation by refugees. “Many have even gone to the civil courts and the federal ombudsman.” He said the top priority of the CDA was to clear the area and remain vigilant to criminal elements. The director said CDA teams were working 16-hour days to ensure just that.