ISLAMABAD/New York - Pakistan is the largest refugee-hosting country in the world with currently hosting some 1.6 million registered refugees.
Speaking at the World Refugee Day commemorative event in Islamabad, senior UNHCR official Maya Ameratunga, has lauded Pakistan's role. She said Pakistan has generously hosted the world's largest refugee population for three decades, and it was essential to mobilise more support from the international community to sustain efforts such as the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (Raha) initiative, which is a way of thanking the hosts of these refugees.
The report titled, "War's Human Cost: UNHCR Global Trends 2013" shows that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people. The report says that the Afghanistan remains the world's leading source of refugees.
According to figures, around 2.6 million Afghan refugees are currently living worldwide with the majority hosted by Pakistan. Thus, Pakistan is the largest protracted refugee situation globally.
Since March 2002 the UNHCR has facilitated the return of 3.8 million registered Afghans from Pakistan in the world's largest voluntary repatriation operation, said the official document of UNHCR.
The government of Pakistan, with UNHCR assistance, issues new refugee cards to more than 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees. These proofs of registration (PoR) cards are valid till the end of 2015.
Pakistan's cabinet decided in July of 2013 to further extend the temporary stay of Afghan refugees. The refugee card is important as it provides for Afghans to legally remain in Pakistan and thereby protects against risks such as extortion, arbitrary arrest and detention as well as deportation under Pakistan's Foreigner's Act.
Efforts to promote durable solutions for Afghans are being pursued through the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR), launched at an international conference in Geneva in May 2012, complemented by the government of Pakistan's national policy on Afghan refugees adopted in July 2013. The UNHCR said it will continue to advocate for Pakistan to adopt national legislation on refugees.
Afghan refugees who have fled Afghanistan due to violence and persecution at various times since 1979, of which close to 40 per cent are living in refugee villages and close to 60 per cent in urban and rural host communities throughout Pakistan; and asylum-seekers and individually recognised refugees from various countries, who are living mainly in urban areas, and once recognised by UNHCR under its mandate, are channelled through the resettlement procedures, the UNHCR added.
The UNHCR will focus on improving registration, protection needs assessments and refugee status determination, together with increasing the resettlement options for those unable to repatriate or facing serious protection challenges. The UNHCR has been assisting the return of these refugees through cash donations. Every year, UNHCR holds several special events to recognise the lives of refugees and those who are dedicated to helping them.
By the end of 2013, an estimated 51.2 million people worldwide were considered to be forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, generalised violence, or human rights violations. These included 16.7 million refugees, 33.3 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and close to 1.2 million individuals whose asylum applications had not yet been adjudicated by the end of the reporting period.
“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. “Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.” Developing countries are hosting 86 per cent of the world’s refugees.
With 1.6 million refugees, Pakistan is currently the biggest host country, followed by Iran and Lebanon.
The global total of 51.2 million forcibly displaced represents a huge number of people in need of help, with implications both for foreign aid budgets in donor nations and the absorption and hosting capacities of countries on the front lines of refugee crises, says UNHCR.
"The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in South Sudan, Syria, Central African Republic and elsewhere. Non-traditional donors need to step up alongside traditional donors. As many people are forcibly displaced today as the entire populations of medium-to-large countries such as Colombia or Spain, South Africa or South Korea,” said Guterres.
The annual report – this year subtitled War’s Human Cost is based on data compiled by governments, non-governmental partner organisations, and from the agency’s own records – notes that the Syrian crisis, entering into its third year in 2013, as the primary cause of these outflows, as highlighted by two dramatic milestones. In August, the one millionth Syrian refugee child was registered; only a few weeks later, UNHCR announced that the number of Syrian refugees had passed two million. “The Syrian Arab Republic had moved from being the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country to being its second largest refugee-producing country – within a span of just five years,” states the report.
The annual survey also notes that 3.5 million refugees, or one-third of the global total, were residing in countries covered by UNHCR’s Asia and Pacific region.
Sub-Saharan Africa was host to more than 2.9 million, or one-quarter of all refugees, primarily from Somalia (778,400), Sudan (605,400), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (470,300), the Central African Republic (251,900), and Eritrea (198,700).