ISLAMABAD: The United Nations chief urged the world to support Pakistan more in its efforts to shelter and protect Afghan refugees, as he spoke during a UN conference which started in Islamabad on Monday.
“I not only saw compassion in words but in deeds,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said while addressing the summit – “40 years of Afghan Refugees Presence in Pakistan – organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“We must recognize that international support for Pakistan has been minimal compared to own national efforts,” Guterres said, as he acknowledged Islamabad’s efforts to provide access to education and health care to the refugee community, despite limited resources and little international support.
Pakistan is the world’s second-largest host of refugees with over 2 million Afghans living in different parts of the country since 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
“We have come together to recognize a remarkable story of solidarity and compassion ... it is important to do so because it is a story that spans over decades,” the UN chief said and observed that Pakistan’s compassion toward the displaced Afghans is “missing from much of the world.”
Top politicians and officials from 20 countries attend the conference, including UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, and Afghan vice presidents Yunus Qanuni and Sarwar Danish.
In his opening remarks, Grandi said that “for Afghans, the story of their exile has been a long and painful one” and it “will not be complete until solutions can be found back in their own country.”
Only 8,000 refugees were able to return home through the voluntary repatriation program, he said. “For some refugees, nonetheless, solutions can be possible, even in these difficult circumstances. And I commend the commitment of the government of Afghanistan to the return and reintegration of its nationals.”
Speaking on the occasion, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Pakistan too wanted their “honorable repatriation,” while it was doing its best to provide all the necessary facilities to the refugees as well as “the best ever support” to the Afghan peace process.
In reference to comments by Sarwar Danish, Afghanistan’s second vice president, who during the conference accused Pakistan of allowing insurgents to recruit fighters from Afghan refugee camps in the country, Khan said Pakistan is no longer a “safe haven” for militants.
“Whatever the situation might have been in the past, right now, I can tell you ... there is one thing we want: peace in Afghanistan,” he said.