Corona lockdown: Afghan refugees await help as UNHCR falters | Pakistan Today

Corona lockdown: Afghan refugees await help as UNHCR falters

ISLAMABAD: Rather than shifting its focus on providing food ration to the besieged Afghan refugees in lockdown, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has announced the top-up of mobile cards for 3,000 Outreach Volunteers and community mobilizers across the country to strengthen effective digital communication.

“Amid these challenging times, arranging large group discussions in the community is not only risky but not permitted. To help overcome this, UNHCR announced the top-up of mobile cards for 3,000 Outreach Volunteers and community mobilizers across the country to strengthen effective digital communication,” said a press release issued here on Friday.

It merits mention that Minister of State for SAFRON Shehryar Afridi had written a letter to UNHCR, asking it to immediately divert their funds towards relief efforts to the Afghan refugees, as most of them are daily wage workers who lost their jobs after the lockdown.

The Pakistani government has requested the UNHCR to contribute to rationing for the Afghan refugees, particularly those living in 52 camps across the country.

“It is earnestly requested that keeping in view of our national policies and our commitment to Afghan refugees, the provisioning for essential rations/food supplies during the lockdown period be arranged on an urgent basis,” Afridi said in a letter to UNHCR.

“Pakistan is playing a role, but this is a gigantic challenge to provide food and rations to the refugees. It is high time for the UN and the prosperous world to come forward to meet the food and other requirements of Afghan refugees, whose majority is daily wagers,” Afridi told Anadolu news agency.

“Around 80% of the world’s total refugees are being hosted by countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh,” Afridi noted.

“Now it’s the duty of the prosperous First World to join hands with us to meet their basic requirements at this critical juncture.”

Iain Hall, the UNHCR’s deputy representative in Pakistan, said the agency was in contact with all of the relevant ministries to provide assistance regarding health, water and sanitation and risk communication to the Afghan refugees in this trying time.

He acknowledged that the agency was not providing rations to the Afghan refugees but had dispatched medical supplies and sanitation products in support of refugees and host communities across the country.

“We are in constant contact with the government and doing whatever we can to support the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hall told Anadolu.

He said neither the government nor the agency had “prioritized” any section of Pakistani society to provide aid.

“All the people in Pakistani society, including the Afghan refugees, are equal to us. There is no discrimination either from our part or from the government,” he said, adding the agency had recently donated five ambulances to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to support its fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

However, it seems as if the UNHCR has no plans to provide relief to the Afghan refugees.

“The Outreach Volunteers and community mobilizers are Afghan refugees who help disseminate information within their communities. They also carry out important advocacy with the local authorities and service providers,” the statement said.

UNHCR supports around 2,200 Outreach Volunteers and some 800 community mobilizers in Pakistan. Outreach Volunteers, community organizers as well as elders and Shuras are all an integral part of UNHCR’s community-based approach, which ensures that refugees play a role in responding to situations that affect their lives.

“The role of Outreach Volunteers in Pakistan is especially instrumental at this time in ensuring that government information on COVID-19 is effectively disseminated through digital channels,” said the Deputy Representative of UNHCR in Pakistan, Iain Hall.

He noted that this is a one-time mobile top-up of Rs1,000 per person.

The UN Refugee Agency supports the Government of Pakistan’s surveillance, preparedness and response plans, which include refugees.