With the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan now in freefall, Pakistan will be forced to make some difficult decisions going forward if it is to insulate itself from the fallout. One of those decisions is with regards to the refugee influx which seems inevitable based on current trends. Yesterday, it was announced that Pakistan is not in favour of opening its border to refugees and will instead be seeking to emulate the Iranian model if the situation worsens in the future. Such an arrangement would involve the establishment of settlements along the border which would be subjected to strict control and monitoring, prohibiting the entry of refugees into the mainland.
In Iran’s case, the model has worked quite well considering how there were around 800,000 Afghan refugees who were residing in villages set up by Tehran along the border areas with Afghanistan in the 1980’s. Because of this arrangement, the refugees were prevented from settling in cities and towns. It is encouraging to see that Pakistan is thinking proactively about this issue and is even planning on sending a high-level team consisting of officials from the interior ministry, security establishment and other relevant departments to Iran to better understand the implementation of the model.
The issue of refugees is complicated and is indeed a humanitarian one. However, while acknowledging the humanitarian dimensions of this dilemma, there are several other factors that need to be considered. Senior government officials have rightly pointed out that Pakistan needs to consider its economic and political situation and security concerns before taking any decision.
The refugee crisis is real and poses a serious burden not only in terms of hosting refugees, but also managing their constant cross-border movement. This dual burden will intensify significantly as the violence increases in Afghanistan. An influx of refugees will also place a significant strain on our economy because a younger educated generation of Afghans will flee towards Pakistan in search of stability and livelihood. This will result in a highly competitive environment when Pakistan is already struggling to deal with its youth cohort. All these factors illustrate that the humanitarian aspect cannot be viewed in isolation. There is no easy decision here that can please everyone.
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