Refugee crisis

NOTWITHSTANDING all the successes touted as hallmarks of the modern age, it is a sad reality that globally, displacement as a result of wars, conflict and persecution is currently at the highest level ever recorded. On Thursday, the UNHCR`s annual Global Trends Report, World at War, said that the number of people forcibly displaced by the end of 2014 stood at a `staggering` 59.5 million, compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.

The increase, it said, represents the biggest-ever jump in a single year.

To put that in perspective, consider this: globally, one in 122 people is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum; if this were the population of a country, it would be the world`s 24th largest.

These figures hold special significance for Pakistan, which hosts some 1.5 million registered refugees from the protracted conflict in Afghanistan. This gives it the dubious distinction of being the country with the second largest number of refugees in the world (the first being Turkey, which is home to 1.59 million Syrian refugees). In addition to this, there are an estimated one million Afghans resident illegally in the country too; as reported on Saturday, an exercise to register them is set to get under way on July 25 it will be a six-month process that is to involve the setting up of 21 registration centres across the country.

Here in Pakistan, the Afghan population is generally viewed as a burden, but one that must necessarily be shouldered in the light of humanitarian concerns and the fact that the neighbouring country has not seen peace of any durable shape for over three and a half decades, as a result of conflicts of varying types. Efforts to encourage the refugees to return have met with some success some 45,000 people have gone back to their country under a UN-sponsored voluntary repatriation programme since January. But the fear felt by many in terms of returning to their own country can be understood, especially since many amongst the refugees` number were born here. Pakistan continues to receive UN support to see to the needs of the refugees, but the fact remains that Afghanistan`s affairs need to be permanently settled, with little possibility of a return to conflict before a large-scale repatriation of refugees can be expected. The world has an important role to play in this regard, not least Pakistan and the regional countries.

Published in Dawn