Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November 2014, 14:08 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Pakistan

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Pakistan , 1 June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3eddc4948.html [accessed 26 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

An estimated 1.7 million Afghans repatriated from Pakistan during the year, 1.56 million with assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and about 150,000 on their own. Pakistan continued to host some 1.5 million Afghan refugees and about 18,000 refugees of other nationalities at year's end. The approximately 18,000 non-Afghan refugees in Pakistan included about 17,000 refugees from areas of Kashmir that are part of India, 400 Somalis, 170 Iraqis, 150 Iranians, and 150 persons from other countries. During the year, 1,900 Afghan and 120 non-Afghan refugees resettled outside the region, a majority, some 1,800, to the United States.

Earlier estimates placed the entire population of Afghan refugees in Pakistan at about 2.2 million. The fact that some 1.5 million Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan – despite the repatriation of more than 1.7 million – is based on many of the returnees (82 percent) having left from Pakistani cities, where most were not registered or counted as refugees. In early 2002, Pakistani authorities estimated the number of Afghan refugees living in cities to be some 1.6 million. However, later in the year, they said that estimate had been too low. Most of the 1.2 million Afghan refugees living in refugee camps or villages and a number of urban refugees remained in Pakistan at year's end.

UNHCR reported that some 10,400 Pakistanis sought asylum in industrialized countries during the year.

Afghans: Developments before 2002

Afghan refugees first fled to Pakistan in 1978, after a communist government seized power in Kabul. The influx mushroomed after the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan in December 1979, growing to more than 4 million – mostly ethnic Pashtuns – in the 1980s. The Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, but significant numbers of refugees did not return home until Afghan insurgents ousted the Soviet-installed Najibullah regime in 1992. Repatriation slowed beginning in 1993 because of infighting among the various insurgent factions.

In the mid-1990s, the radical Islamist Taliban faction seized control over southern Afghanistan and Kabul. Taliban offensives in northern Afghanistan in the late 1990s sent hundreds of thousands of new refugees into Pakistan and Iran and displaced large numbers of people within Afghanistan. Many of the Afghan refugees who entered Pakistan after 1996 were members of ethnic minorities and urban dwellers, including many of Afghanistan's professionals. Often they did not integrate well with other Afghan refugees or with local Pashtuns. By the end of the decade, the mostly ethnic-Pashtun Taliban controlled 90 percent of Afghanistan, although fighting continued between Taliban and Northern Alliance opposition forces.

During the late 1990s, as Pakistan's economy worsened and international financial support for the refugees dwindled, the authorities, the media, and the general public increasingly blamed refugees for Peshawar's and other cities' growing social ills, including crime, drug abuse, prostitution, and the widespread availability of weapons. Police harassment of urban refugees increased during this period. In early 2001, the government of Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), with the acquiescence of the national government, embarked on a policy of mass refoulement (forced return of refugees).

Continued fighting, human rights violations by the Taliban, and a severe drought spurred a new Afghan refugee influx into Pakistan beginning in June 2000. Pakistan officially closed its border to new Afghan refugees, but more than 170,000 Afghans, mostly members of ethnic minorities, entered by avoiding the main border crossings. Most made their way to Jalozai, an impromptu transit center for new arrivals, where serious problems quickly arose because the Pakistani government only allowed UNHCR and other relief groups to provide minimal assistance. In January 2001, UNHCR transferred virtually all of the 18,000 Afghans at Jalozai to Shamshatoo, but within days another 50,000 to 60,000 Afghans appeared at Jalozai. With little or no sanitation, inadequate water, shelter, and medical care, and no regular food distribution, the situation in Jalozai quickly deteriorated into "one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world," according to the UN.

UNHCR proposed a screening process for new arrivals at Jalozai that would distinguish those who might be at risk if returned to Afghanistan from those who were not in need of protection. The government agreed to the screening in late July 2001, but insisted that the screening should apply not only to the new arrivals at Jalozai, but also to residents of Nasir Bagh, a camp on the outskirts of Peshawar that was home to some 70,000 long-term refugees.

The screening program began in August, but was suspended following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, after which U.S. President George Bush linked the terrorist attacks to the Afghanistan-based Al Qaeda organization and made it clear that the United States would take retaliatory military action. That action began in October 2001 and prompted a new exodus of tens of thousands of people from inside Afghanistan toward the border. The Pakistani authorities, particularly those in NWFP, again sealed the border to prevent them from entering, thus trapping many of them inside Afghanistan in places of danger. Some 150,000 Afghans were nevertheless able to make their way into Pakistan.

Afghans: Developments in 2002

UNHCR completed the transfer of all the refugees in Jalozai to new camps and officially closed Jalozai on February 12, 2002. Between January and February 2002, some 50,000 Afghans, mostly ethnic Pashtuns, fled into Pakistan citing harassment by non-Pashtuns, ongoing fighting, lawlessness, and lack of food in their home areas. These new asylum seekers were transferred to new camps in the Pakistani border town of Chaman, in the southeastern province of Baluchistan. In mid-February, the Government of Pakistan suspended pre-registration of new refugees, leaving some 20,000 Afghans stranded at the border and dependent on UNCHR for critical lifesaving assistance at Killi Faizo camp and five other makeshift sites. By May the numbers of stranded Afghans peaked at 40,000, when Afghan diplomats persuaded many to return to Afghanistan. In August a new camp known as Zhare Dasht was established inside Afghanistan, near the Afghan town of Spin Boldak west of Kandahar, to which some 7,000 of the asylum seekers relocated. By the end of the year, though, the numbers of Afghans in the Chaman area of Pakistan had reached 80,000. Shelter, food and access to medical care continued to be urgent issues for the ethnic Pashtuns in these facilities known as waiting-area camps. News agencies reported that more than 40 asylum-seeking children had died of severe cold in December.

Afghans: Repatriation

The U.S. military action in Afghanistan led to the Taliban's ouster in late January 2002. Even before the Taliban's defeat, thousands of Afghans began repatriating, particularly to northern areas where Taliban control first collapsed. This unassisted, spontaneous repatriation continued in early 2002. By the time that UNHCR initiated the formal, assisted repatriation program on March 1, 2002, an estimated 110,000 Afghans had repatriated spontaneously.

UNHCR established seven repatriation offices, three in NWFP, and the others in Karachi, Islamabad, and Quetta. When the repatriation program first began, as many as 10,000 refugees approached these offices daily to register to return. After registering, refugees made their own way back to Afghanistan. Once inside Afghanistan, returning refugees reported to a UNHCR encashment center, where they received a reimbursement of $20 per person for their transportation costs ($100 per family for families of five or more). Refugees then continued to their areas of origin, where UNHCR provided a returnee assistance package that included a supply of wheat as well as non-food items such as plastic sheeting and blankets. Some returnees also received medical check-ups, vaccinations, and mine awareness training.

By mid-May, more than 500,000 Afghans had repatriated, the vast majority from Pakistan. An estimated 1.2 million had repatriated from Pakistan by mid-July. The scale of the repatriation quickly exhausted UNHCR's resources and the agency had to appeal for additional funds several times during the year. By September, as cold weather approached in Afghanistan, the rate of return slowed and UNHCR closed all but two of its registration centers. By year's end, nearly 1,560,000 Afghans had repatriated from Pakistan – four times the number that UNHCR had originally anticipated.

Some of those who repatriated subsequently returned to Pakistan, largely because of the difficult conditions they encountered in Afghanistan. In October, UNHCR reported that several hundred families had returned in August and September, but that some of those only planned to winter in Pakistan and would return to Afghanistan in the spring. However, Pakistani officials cited in a German press report in December said that as many as 300,000 Afghans who repatriated later returned to Pakistan.

More than 80 percent of the Afghans who repatriated from Pakistan were persons who had been living in Pakistani cities, not long-time camp refugees. The camp refugees, who like much of the local population are mostly Pashtun, are generally the most well-established. Most have been in Pakistan since the late 1970s and early 1980s.

While the vast majority of those who repatriated did so eagerly, the Pakistani authorities' continued harassment of Afghan refugees living in the cities, particularly in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, prompted some to return. In 2001, the U.S. Committee for Refugees issued a report on Afghan refugees in Pakistan that detailed Pakistani police harassment and extortion of Afghan refugees. The problems continued in 2002. In April, UNHCR expressed concern to the Pakistani government regarding the harassment. The organization said it had received a disturbing number of complaints from refugees. The complaints included arrests, extortion, and police raids on areas with many Afghan residents. The Pakistani government set up a special task force to investigate the complaints. In June, however, UNHCR reported that the problems continued.

In October, after months of negotiation, UNHCR and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a tripartite repatriation agreement that calls for UNHCR to continue facilitating repatriation for three more years. After that, UNHCR and Pakistan will screen the remaining population to determine which among them continue to require international protection.

Kashmiris

Pakistan continued to host about 17,000 refugees from the region of Kashmir that is part of India, some of whom have been in Pakistan since 1947. The refugees live in 17 camps in the region of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir known as Azad and Jammu Kashmir, where the local authorities assist them.

In addition to the refugees, about 2,000 Kashmiris are internally displaced in Pakistan. Most were displaced in the late 1990s from areas under Pakistan control. A majority of the displaced live in one of two camps for displaced people in Azad and Jammu Kashmir, while the remainder live in a makeshift camp in the Northern Territories. An unknown number of other Kashmiris are also internally displaced, but because they live with relatives and friends, they are not readily identifiable. Because the Pakistani authorities want the displaced to return to their villages along the frontier to reinforce Pakistan's claim to that area, the government does not provide the displaced the same level of assistance that they provide the refugees from India. The International Committee of the Red Cross assists the displaced.

Since the late 1980s, the Indian armed forces in Kashmir have fought Kashmiri Muslim insurgents – allegedly supported by Pakistan – who seek either union with Pakistan or an independent Kashmir. On occasion, the conflict, whose origins lie in the 1947 partition of India, pits India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, directly against one another.

Tensions between Pakistan and India increased in late 2001 following a suicide bombing in the Jammu and Kashmir legislature that killed 40 people. Pakistan and India massed more than 800,000 troops along the border.

The military build-up and tension between the two countries continued in early 2002. Pakistan carried out one of the largest mine-laying operations anywhere in the world in many years along its border with India. Tensions eased towards the end of the year, however, after intense international diplomatic pressure on both governments and some progress by Pakistan in reigning-in militant groups operating on its soil.

Clashes between Pakistani and Indian armed forces, the Indian army's shelling of civilian villages on the Pakistani side of the border, and attacks by Muslim separatists forced tens of thousands of civilians to become displaced in both Pakistan and Indian-controlled Kashmir. Many of the displaced were able to return to their homes after tensions between the two countries eased later in the year.

Other Refugees

According to UNHCR, Pakistan hosted nearly 1,000 refugees from various other countries, including 156 persons whom UNHCR newly recognized as refugees during the year.

Pakistan regards non-Afghan refugees, including those recognized by UNHCR, as illegal aliens. It permits UNHCR-recognized refugees to remain pending repatriation or resettlement to countries outside the region, but does not permit them to work. UNHCR provides the refugees financial assistance, medical care, and scholarships, and seeks durable solutions for them. During 2002, a total of 120 non-Afghans (66 Iranians, 38 Iraqis, 9 Chinese, and 8 Somalis) resettled to third countries.

Human Rights Developments in Pakistan

Some 10,400 Pakistanis filed asylum claims in industrialized countries in 2002, primarily in Canada (3,500), the United Kingdom (2,500), and Germany (1,100). Many fled increasing human rights violations in Pakistan. Human rights lawyer Asma Jehangir noted that "The government has used its ... indispensability to the United States to deprive its people of their rights."

In October, Pakistan held elections in which put in place a new civilian prime minister. However, General Pervez Musharraf, who has ruled Pakistan for three years, extended his powers – including the right to dissolve parliament and remove the prime minister – for an additional five years.

There was a marked increase in religious intolerance and anti-Western sentiment in Pakistan in 2002. There were several deadly attacks on Christians, including two attacks on Christian churches in March that left 21 dead, the killing of 12 French citizens in May, the murder of six children in a missionary school in August, and the killing of seven people at a Christian welfare organization in September.

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