U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Pakistan

  At the end of 1997, Pakistan hosted 1.2 million refugees from Afghanistan, 13,000 from India, 1,100 from Iraq, 850 from Somalia, and 700 from Iran. About 30 non-Afghan refugees repatriated in 1997, and 481 resettled in third countries. USCR visited Pakistan in November to assess conditions for Afghan refugees. Refugees from Afghanistan Approximately 2 million Afghan refugees repatriated from Pakistan between 1989, when Soviet troops withdrew, and 1995. In 1996, UNHCR conducted a census to determine how many Afghan refugees remained in Pakistan. It determined that some 1.2 million refugees, including previously unregistered refugees, were living in the Afghan refugee villages in Pakistan. Approximately two-thirds of them had been living in the refugee villages for at least a decade. The refugee villages appear much like other rural villages in Pakistan. Refugees mostly live in self-constructed mud houses. They are able to move freely in Pakistan and work wherever they can find jobs. Most find at least subsistence work in the local economy. Perhaps as many as 10 percent of the refugees remain vulnerable, however, including those handicapped, sick, or widowed. Since UNHCR announced in 1995 that it would phase out assistance to the refugees by 1998, donor contributions to programs for Afghan refugees in Pakistan have steadily decreased, with donors encouraging repatriation. Food assistance to the general refugee population ended in 1995. Refugees stay in Pakistan because they have carved out reasonable and predictable lives, at least compared to what they could expect in Afghanistan, humanitarian workers in say. Many refugees maintain a foothold in both countries by living in Pakistan while hiring tenant farmers to work their land in Afghanistan. Pakistan continued to receive new Afghan refugees during the year. Many fled fighting in Afghanistan's north. Others fled the Taliban's (the Islamic fundamentalist movement that controlled much of Afghanistan) stern treatment of residents of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital. Pakistan estimated that 50,000 refugees entered the country between September 1996 and March 1997. However, of these, only 15,000 requested UNHCR assistance. Afghan refugees in Pakistan became a foreign policy and media focal point in 1997 when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited the Nasir Bagh refugee village on the outskirts of Peshawar. She denounced the Taliban's gender discrimination policies and practices in employment, education, and health, and vowed to ensure that opportunities for young girls would remain available in Pakistan. The Peshawar Development Authority has said it wants refugees living in Nasir Bagh to vacate the camp. Nasir Bagh has been home to 60,000 refugees for 18 years. However, it is located on prime land that the authority wants to develop. UNHCR is trying to forestall the move until a replacement site can be prepared. Repatriation to Afghanistan Repatriation to Afghanistan from Pakistan in 1997 declined for the second consecutive year. UNHCR's initial repatriation target figure for 1997 was 250,000 refugees. Budget constraints reduced that figure later in the year to a revised target of 100,000. The government differed with UNHCR over how many refugees should be targeted for return in 1997, but did not threaten forced repatriation. UNHCR reported that about 81,000 refugees repatriated to Afghanistan in the first 11 months of 1997. Only about 20 percent repatriated spontaneously, without UNHCR assistance. As recently as 1995, about half of the returnees to Afghanistan repatriated spontaneously. Most of the refugees remaining in Pakistan are from Afghanistan's eastern provinces, including Kunar, Nangarhar, Logar, Paktia, Kabul, Paktika, and Kandahar. Since those areas were mostly calm, conflict generally did not constrain their return to Afghanistan. The 1997 slowdown in repatriation may have reflected the fragile situation in Afghanistan: the largely subsistence-agriculture economy was depressed and increasingly devoted to drug production; men continued to be recruited for war; health care and education for women were substantially reduced in Taliban-controlled territory, particularly in the cities; and clearance of the country's estimated ten million landmines proceeded slowly. That at least one generation of Afghans has been born in Pakistan also influenced repatriation's pace. Many young people have never been "home" and may have no desire to "return." Most of UNHCR's repatriation effort went into comprehensive programs to provide refugees the wherewithal to survive upon return. UNHCR identified extended families or even entire small villages willing to repatriate, provided them a package of resources including seeds, some livestock, a six-month supply of food, and materials to help build homes, and ensured that their land was available and de-mined.
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