Afghan diplomats seek extension for refugees in Pakistan

Afghan refugee children play in a slum in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Reuters)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Afghan diplomats seek extension for refugees in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Afghan diplomats in Pakistan are trying to persuade the Pakistani authorities to extend the stay of registered Afghan refugees by up to one year, following the decision by the Pakistani Cabinet that the refugees must leave the country by Jan. 31.
On Jan. 3, the Pakistani Cabinet decided to grant just a one-month extension to the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards that allow registered Afghan refugees to legally reside in Pakistan. That extension period will expire at the end of this month.
Zardasht Shams, Afghanistan’s deputy ambassador in Islamabad, told Arab News on Saturday that Pakistan’s decision to repatriate nearly 1.4 million refugees in a single month is “practically impossible” to implement.
“We are seriously concerned at the decision,” Shams said.
“We have requested Pakistan to extend the stay of refugees to the end of 2018. But, at the same time, we are asking refugees to be ready for repatriation.”
He warned that refugees could face “harassment” by police after their PoR cards expire on Jan. 31.
Besides the 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, Pakistan also hosts around 1 million unregistered Afghans and the process of their documentation is currently underway across Pakistan, Shams explained.
“In the meanwhile, we are meeting refugee elders to encourage them to repatriate,” he said.
The Afghan Embassy and government received the information through the media, Shams claimed, and “have not received anything in writing” from the Pakistani government.
He said the relevant departments in Afghanistan, including the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, are also preparing in case there is a “huge exodus.”
“We are also in touch with UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and aid organizations in Kabul,” the deputy ambassador said.
An official from Pakistan’s States and Frontiers Regions Division (SAFRON), which deals with refugees, said the ministry and other stakeholders will prepare a “mega plan” for refugees’ repatriation if the government does not decide to grant an extension.
“It could take one year or even more time to repatriate 1.4 million refugees. We will approach the government to give us enough time to implement the decision,” the official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Arab News on Saturday.
He said the government has a stated policy that refugees will not be forced to leave, and that the repatriation policy will be implemented with care.
The Pakistani Cabinet reportedly suggested that the issue of early repatriation of Afghan refugees should be raised with UNHCR and the international community.
As part of Afghanistan’s diplomatic efforts, the ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, met the UNHCR’s Pakistan Representative, Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, on Thursday to discuss the repatriation issue.
Although the Cabinet stated “Pakistan’s economy has carried the burden of hosting Afghan refugees for a long time and in the present circumstances cannot sustain it further,” many believe the decision was taken because of tensions between Pakistan and the US, and Pakistan’s concerns that militants may use refugee camps to evade capture.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told Pakistan’s Geo television last month that Afghan militants had “entered the camps of Afghan refugees and they keep on changing positions and relocating.”
He also called for repatriation of the refugees and pushed the Trump administration to finance, at least in part, the repatriation and resettlement of refugees in Afghanistan.
Qaisar Khan Afridi, UNHCR spokesman in Islamabad, said the Afghan refugees in Pakistan “face an uncertain future concerning their continued stay.”
“This decision seemingly runs counter to the conclusions of the 29th Tripartite Commission meeting held on Nov. 30, 2017, which emphasized the need for at least a one-year extension of the PoR cards,” he told Arab News.
“UNHCR acknowledges Pakistan’s generosity in hosting one of the world’s largest protracted refugee populations for almost four decades. The UNHCR calls for international support for the Pakistani government’s efforts to continue to host the almost 1.4 million Afghan refugees currently residing in Pakistan,” he said.


Philippine villages at risk of landslides forcibly evacuated

Updated 59 min 42 sec ago
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Philippine villages at risk of landslides forcibly evacuated

  • Authorities have limited the number of rescuers and other people inside the stricken villages
  • About 270 government troops and policemen were deployed to prevent residents from returning to high-risk villages

NAGA, Philippines: Philippine troops and police forcibly evacuated residents of five villages vulnerable to landslides after the collapse of a mountainside buried dozens of homes and killed at least 22 people in a central region.
Some residents left on their own, but the bulk of more than 1,200 people in villages adjacent or near the landslide-hit area were forcibly moved by authorities Thursday night, police Chief Superintendent Debold Sinas said Friday.
Survivors heard a thunderous roar, crashing and banging when the mountainside fell onto rural houses and shanties in two villages in Naga city on Thursday morning. Some trapped in the sludge managing to send text messages pleading for help but the messages stopped within a few hours.
Distraught relatives begged for more backhoes to be brought to the mound of earth and debris, where they hoped loved ones could be pulled out alive, but there were far too few machines to dig for the dozens of people missing.
Resident Nimrod Parba said one of his trapped relatives called for help about three hours after the landslide hit, entombing 13 of his kin. “They are still under the rubble, they are still there. They are covered in shallow earth, we need a backhoe,” Parba said.
A man embracing a child in a house was dug out by rescuers using a backhoe Thursday night in a poignant scene witnessed by journalists.
Authorities have limited the number of rescuers and other people inside the stricken villages, fearing heavy rains on the loose and soaked ground could cause new slides. Thursday’s landslide also covered part of a river, prompting officials to order a temporary canal to be dug.
About 270 government troops and policemen were deployed to prevent residents from returning to high-risk villages, Sinas said.
President Rodrigo Duterte is to visit Naga city in Cebu province later Friday as he faces his latest crisis.
The landslide in the central region occurred as parts of the far northern Philippine deal with damage from a typhoon that hit last weekend. At least 95 people were killed and more than 50 are missing, many in the gold-mining town of Itogon in the north where landslides hit houses and a chapel where people had gathered in the storm.
Cebu province was not directly hit by Typhoon Mangkhut but the storm intensified the seasonal monsoon rains that normally fall in tropical Asia.
It’s not clear what set off the landslide, but some residents blamed limestone quarries, which they suspect may have caused cracks in the mountainside facing their villages.
The Philippines is one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. It is lashed by about 20 tropical storms each year and has active seismic faults where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. Poverty forces many people to live in those vulnerable areas, making natural disasters more deadly.