One More Year

After 40 years, what is one more year? It seems Pakistani authorities have kicked the can of Afghan refugee repatriation further down the road at the behest of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). However, as UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi leaves the country after meeting with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on the last leg of his three-day visit, there are still no long-term solutions for this enduring problem.

The Federal Cabinet decided on Wednesday to grant a one-year extension in the stay of registered Afghan refugees, pausing the repatriation process begun under the caretaker government and allaying the fears of many about being sent back to Afghanistan. The UNHCR feted the move as a “generous gesture,” while Grandi personally expressed appreciation that the “Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan” – the formal name of the plan – had been suspended and sought assurances that it would remain on hold. This may bring a temporary sense of relief to many Afghans living in Pakistan, and a sense of achievement for the UNHCR, but what is to be done once the year is over?

The world and other multilateral organizations can only pay lip service to pledges of assistance while ensuring their statements are couched exclusively in vague corporate-speak – as Mr. Grandi’s statement attests. Even explicit promises are not kept. Following the Taliban takeover in 2021, an additional 70,000 refugees came to Pakistan. While the UNHCR asked Pakistan not to repatriate them, promising a third country would take them in, only 9,000 of those 70,000 have ever been relocated.

What is Pakistan supposed to believe? After over 40 years of having an open-arms policy towards Afghan refugees, Pakistan still has received no significant assistance. After a certain point, international idealism must make way for practical governance.

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