PM Shehbaz urges collective responsibility, int’l recognition of Pakistan’s Afghan refugee ‘burden’

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday urged the international community to recognize the “burden of Afghan refugees” borne by Pakistan and demonstrate “collective responsibility” to address the issue, the prime minister’s office said.

His remarks came during a meeting with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filipe Grandi at the Prime Minister’s House.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) arrived in Pakistan on Sunday for a three-day visit, its first since the caretaker government announced a plan to repatriate what it called “undocumented aliens” in November last year.

“The Prime Minister emphasized that the international community must recognize the burden Pakistan bears in hosting such a large number of refugees and demonstrate collective responsibility,” the statement said.

Prime Minister Shehbaz noted that despite numerous challenges, Pakistan hosted the Afghan refugees with exemplary respect and dignity, the statement added.

He requested UNHCR’s support in mobilizing adequate resources to complement Pakistan’s efforts in this regard and urged the global refugee agency to play its role in finding durable solutions to address the situation of Afghan refugees, including their safe and dignified return and reintegration into their homeland. , as well as relocation to third countries.

While reaffirming Pakistan’s commitment to address the protection and security needs of people in vulnerable situations, Prime Minister Shehbaz emphasized that the international community must be mindful of the socio-economic challenges and security threats Pakistan faces.

“The UN High Commissioner expressed gratitude for Pakistan’s generosity and hospitality in hosting millions of Afghan refugees over the past many decades and assured that UNHCR will continue to work closely with Pakistan to meet the basic needs of Afghan refugees,” the statement added.

Pakistan began the first round of repatriation of what it called “undocumented aliens” in November last year.

No official figures have been released on how many of the estimated 1.7 million undocumented Afghans have left for their country since November 2023, although the number is likely to fall well short of what is now believed to be a vastly exaggerated figure.

But according to informed sources, the total number of undocumented Afghans who returned to Afghanistan through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in the first round is around half a million.

UNHCR will lead a dialogue on refugees
The day before, Grandi met Pakistan’s Minister of States and Frontier Regions (Safron), Amir Muqam, and said UNHCR would organize a global dialogue, most likely in October, to discuss refugee-related issues, Safron’s ministry said.

“Pakistan will be specially invited on this occasion,” the UNHCR chief said in a statement. He expressed the hope that the event will create a new dimension and avenues to support refugees around the world.

The meeting was attended by Philippa Candler, the UNHCR representative in Pakistan, and several other officials of the UN refugee agency.

“Currently, there are 1.45 million Afghan nationals registered and this does not include the large number of unregistered Afghan refugees and other nationals,” Federal Minister Muqam said.

He added that it was “a matter of concern” that there had been a drop in support for Afghan refugees and development funds for their host areas in Pakistan.

“We need exclusive, generous and sustainable interventions,” he said.

Grandi praised the people of Pakistan and the government for hosting Afghan refugees for more than four decades.

Meeting with FM Dar
Grandi also called on Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar on Monday and appreciated Pakistan’s efforts and contributions in hosting Afghan refugees for decades, according to a foreign ministry statement.

He briefed Dar, who is also the foreign minister, about the ongoing projects of UNHCR and emphasized the importance of continued engagement and cooperation between Pakistan and UNHCR.

Dar emphasized that new humanitarian situations emerging around the world must not divert global attention from the needs of millions of Afghans.

The gift also emphasized the need for continued demonstration of international solidarity and faithful adherence to the principle of international responsibility and burden sharing.