Millions of Afghan refugees can now legally live in Pakistan until the end of the current year.
“Today, Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, ordered that the registration cards Afghan refugees carry have been extended for another six months,” said Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, the Afghan envoy in Pakistan, on June 29.
He added that the cards, which grant Afghan refugees temporary legal stay, were slated to expire on June 30 and authorities in one Pakistani province have used the looming deadline to harass Afghan refugees.
Reuters reported that the police in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province have arrested and deported at least 500 Afghan refugees in recent days.
Zakhilwal said that in a meeting yesterday he asked the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan -- whose Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf party governs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa -- to stop harassing refugees.
“He promised me he will discuss the issue with provincial authorities. I hope his promises materialize,” he said.
An estimated 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees live in Pakistan. An equal number of unregistered exiles also live in various Pakistani cities. Millions of Afghans fled into neighboring Pakistan following the December 1979 Soviet invasion.
While millions have returned to Afghanistan after the 2001 demise of the hard-line Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the estimated 3 million Afghans in Pakistan are still considered the world’s second-largest refugee population.
Escalating violence and an economic downturn since the 2014 withdrawal of most NATO combat troops have dramatically reduced the number of Afghans voluntarily returning home.
So far this year, only 6,000 Afghans have returned home from Pakistan, according to the United Nations refugee agency. The number is well below last year's 58,211 voluntary repatriations.
Zakhilwal said his priority for now is to end or reduce the harassment of Afghan refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where thousands were arrested over the past month.
“I told provincial authorities not to ruin the goodwill that they have created during the past 35 years,” he noted.
With reporting by Reuters