Hafeez Ullah Haideri, 47, has been living in Pakistan over the past four decades as an Afghan refugee. He has a vague image of his house in Afghanistan as he was very young when his father had to leave their hometown due to unrest.
Naturally, like millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, Haideri feels more associated with Pakistan, a land which does not belong to him in law but he loves to bits, than that of his ancestral Afghanistan, where his forefathers are buried.
“Now my kids are even taller than me, if this (Pakistan) is not our country, no place in the world will be. I visited Afghanistan twice after growing up but the moment I left Pakistan, my heart became so uncomfortable that I wanted to leave everything and come back here,” Haideri told Xinhua.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Pakistan is hosting over 1.4 million Afghan refugees, making the country the second largest host of refugee population in the world.
Some refugees have been living in Pakistan for three generations. They have established their business here, and some of them have even married locals and have been deeply integrated into society. They do not think of going back to Afghanistan even in their wildest dreams as it would mean starting everything again from scratch.
The interim stay of Afghan refugees extended by the Pakistani government is coming to an end on June 30, and Minister of State for States and Frontier Region Shehryar Khan Afridi affirmed that his country supports voluntary repatriation of the Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan in safety and dignity.
In a recent meeting, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UNHCR agreed to launch an awareness program to enable Afghan refugees to make a decision to voluntarily return, with the facilitation and coordination of Pakistan.
Many Afghan refugees hope that the Pakistani government will again extend the deadline of their stay in the county. However, it is still unclear whether the Pakistani authorities will do it or not.
Abdul Jamal, 16, was born and bred in Pakistan. As a college student, Jamal knows all national songs of Pakistan. He celebrates Pakistan’s Independence Day in his school in Islamabad where he is one of the very few refugee boys. He supports the Pakistani cricket team and is more heartbroken than anyone when the team loses its match.
“When my mom tells me that maybe someday we have to leave here and go back to our home Afghanistan, I become very upset. How can I call a place my home where I have never been in my whole life, and why the place where I was born is not my motherland? I agree that I am an outsider here, but I am not just a refugee, but a human being like others who are made of flesh and blood, who have emotions and who get very scared to think that the place where he was born does not belong to him and he has to leave it sooner or later.”
In Pakistan, 68 percent of refugee population has been integrated with mainstream Pakistani population, while 32 percent were living in camps, according to the minister.
Local analysts believed that with shrinking international support to Afghan refugees in Pakistan, it will be hard for the country to bear such a big refugee population with its limited resources.
In a conversation with Xinhua, Kalsoom Sumra, assistant professor of Public Policy in Comsats Institute of Information and Technology Islamabad, said that 85 percent of the refugee population are being patronized by developing countries across the world, and it is very unfortunate that developed countries keep on shutting their doors on them.
“If developed nations show support to Pakistan and play their roles according to their international commitments and UN conventions, refugees can have a good lifestyle in their camps with better education and health facilities, without being a burden on Pakistani economy.”
Afridi said at an event that the world should get united to heal the wounds of refugees who were torn by wars across the world.
“Why the world needs a body of a child on a coast to wake up to the refugee issue? It’s about time that the nations who are silent spectators should come forth and extend support to Afghan refugees.”