ISLAMABAD: Thirty-two-year-old Mashal, an Afghan refugee living in the sprawling slums at outskirts of capital Islamabad, hopes that someday insurgency in Afghanistan would come to an end and she would go back home.
“My husband and I left Afghanistan in 2004 because we wanted to start our new life away from a place where war and death is chasing us everywhere. Since then I have not met my parents and siblings. I don’t know whether they are alive or not,” Mashal told Xinhua.
She said that she prays every day for restoration of peace in her motherland so that she can go back and meet her parents.
“I wish my kids could play in the pomegranate gardens of Kandahar where my sister and I used to play. I wish they could have the love of grand parents and a big family which I had when I was of their age,” she said.
Mashal is not the only one who has taken refuge in neighbouring Pakistan. There are many other Afghans who bid farewell to their native land and migrated to Pakistan which hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide.
According to statistics released by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Pakistan hosts over 1.6 million refugees with a large share of those coming from Afghanistan.
According to the UNHCR, out of 1.6 million registered refugees, around 37 percent live in 80 refugee camps, of which 79 are located along the borders with Afghanistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, while 63 percent live in rural and urban areas of Pakistan.
In Pakistan, there are three camps for refugees sponsored by UNHCR, accommodating more than 80,000 individuals.
The Pakistani government has also established some refugee villages in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces on state-owned lands.
These camps have free schools for children and free medical facilities to the refugees.
Talking to Xinhua, Iftikhar Shah, Public Relation Director of Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, said that over 400,000 to one million Afghans are living in Pakistan illegally but there is no way of verifying the numbers.
Iftikhar said that Pakistan showed full support to Afghan refugees over last three decades despite its limited resources.
“Despite a number of challenges including poverty and law and order situation, government and general public had taken utmost care of Afghan refugees in the hour of need,” he said.
Though Pakistan offered refuge to the migrants from war-torn Afghanistan over the past three-and-a-half decades despite all economic and social challenges, repatriation process has now become a significant issue for the country.
According to latest statistics by UNHCR, a total of 38,18,582 individuals have been repatriated to their natives in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2013 with the help of the agency.
Most of Afghan refugees in Pakistan are living hand to mouth, facing health and medical setbacks, and their kids out of schools due to poverty.
“I come every day to work at a vegetable market where they pay me on daily basis. With the money I buy food for my family. If I fail to get work, they all starve,” Halimullah, 52, said while loading fruit crates at a truck.
Some Afghans living here feel isolated as Pakistani society does not accept them. “I visited a school for my son’s admission but they did not allow him to study, they don’t allow their children to marry ours, they don’t accept our invitation and never invite us to their homes, they are scared of us, they think we are terrorists,” 46- year-old Kherullah told Xinhua.
He said the government showed support to them by providing them free accommodation in refugee camp, but people have not accepted them yet.
Some of the Afghan refugees have managed to achieve a decent life style in Pakistan. They treat Pakistan as their homeland and show their loyalties to it.
Twenty-three-year-old Iqbal Saeedi runs a shoe shop in a well reputed commercial complex in Islamabad. His parents migrated to Pakistan before his birth. All his siblings are educated and are well settled in their lives.
“Our country is Pakistan, we celebrate its independence day, all my friends are Pakistanis and I don’t feel any discrimination here,” Saeedi said.
Some refugees from lower middle class also do not want to go back to Afghanistan due to Taliban-led insurgency, high rate of unemployment and poverty.
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