How is COVID-19 outbreak impacting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan?

Coronavirus outbreak is impacting different people in different ways. This report highlights the state of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. It also suggests what can the international community do to protect daily wagers.

Refugees

Afghan Refugees in Pakistan are waiting for aides to be provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Actions being taken at the moment are not sufficient to ensure the safety of refugees in Pakistan, believed by analysts.

The UNHCR 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 on Friday.

Read more: Opinion: Forty years of Afghan Refugees: Effects on Pakistan & their repatriation

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.

Read more: Mahira Khan met Antonio Guterres, praised for support of Afghan refugees

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 testing 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.

Pakistan continues to support and accommodate refugees despite the fact that the international community no longer supports them. Waqar Maroof Khan, director general Afghan refugees, KPK, says that forty years ago in 1979, the Soviet forces (now Russia) invaded Afghanistan. As a consequence, a large number of Afghan refugees crossed the border into Pakistan seeking refuge from the ravages of war. Their influx started through Torkham border as millions of Afghan refugees entered our country”.

Read more: Afghan Refugees can open bank accounts in Naya Pakistan

“To this day,” added Mr. Waqar,  “the security situation in Afghanistan remains unstable. In the early years, the Government of Pakistan received generous support from the international community, including direct food assistance from the World Food Program (WFP) for the Afghans refugees. However, in the year 1995, direct food assistance was withdrawn by WFP. This prompted the refugees to gradually move out of the camps and into the urban centrers of Pakistan to earn a livelihood for themselves and their families”.

Analysts believe that the world community must help out daily wagers in Pakistan so that their lives can be protected.

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