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Afghans in Pakistan, Bhutanese in Nepal, Rohinga in Bangladesh - Ruiz

Afghans in Pakistan

The U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington prompted the exodus of more than 160,000 new Afghan refugees into Pakistan.  A much large number of Afghans might have fled to Pakistan, but the Pakistani authorities kept the border closed, shutting out all but those who could afford to pay smugglers to lead them into Pakistan over remote mountain passes.  The new arrivals joined some 200,000 Afghans who sought refuge in Pakistan between mid-2000 and mid-2001 because of ongoing conflict, human rights abuse, and drought in Afghanistan, and the more than two million long-term Afghan refugees in the country.
    Most of the 1.2 million Afghan refugees living in villages are ethnic Pashtuns who are relatively well integrated locally.  Urban refugees have, however, faced increasing security problems in recent years, particularly since mid-2000, when the increase in new arrivals began.  Police harassment includes extortion, detention, and refoulement (forcible return) of urban refugees, particularly in Peshawar.
In early 2001, the governor of Northwest Frontier Province issued an order authorizing the police to detain and deport any Afghan not holding a valid Afghan passport and Pakistani visa, including both new arrivals and old refugees.  The governor reportedly instructed each police station in Peshawar to deport a minimum of five to ten Afghan men daily.  That initiated what a UN-commissioned study called a period of “mass harassment in cities and officially sanctioned forcible return to Afghanistan in a systematic manner."
The U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan led to the fall of the Taliban and the installation of a new coalition government in Kabul.  While those developments prompted some Afghan refugees to repatriate in late November and December 2001 and hold promise for much larger-scale repatriation in the coming years, certain categories of Afghan refugees will still be unlikely to return home and should be considered fro repatriation.  Among those are people who spoke out publicly against the Taliban (virtually all former Taliban members are now living freely in Afghanistan and continue to pose a threat to outspoken opponents of the Taliban regime), many single or widowed women and their families who would still find it difficult to integrate and survive in Afghanistan's deeply conservative society, unaccompanied minors, aged and ailing refugees with no means of support, and the many victims of torture and severe violence who could benefit from treatment available in the United States.
In 1999, the United States tried to address the protection needs of Afghan refugees in Pakistan by establishing a Joint Voluntary Agency processing and assistance office in Islamabad and by increasing refugee admission.  In FY 2001, ______ cases were processed for refugee resettlement (compared to 2,976 in FY 2000 and less than half that number in FY 1999).  Top priority has rightly been given to women at risk.  These include educated women, who are targeted for their more liberal or urban backgrounds, as well as war widows with small children, single women, and other female heads of households who are without the traditional male or community protection and thus exposed to sexual harassment, violence, and other forms of exploitation.  Other vulnerable groups, however, should be overlooked.  We urge UNHCR to be active in identifying ethnic groups facing security threats.

We urge the United States to continue to focus on the vulnerable Afghan refugees in FY 2002, and believe the situation justifies an appropriately defined P-2 category for the Afghan refugees, to be formulated in consultation with UNHCR, the refugee processing agency, and the NGO community.  Moreover, with UNHCR in Pakistan unable to effect family reunification, we urge that P-3, P-4, and P-5 programs be opened for at least long-staying Afghan refugees as well.


Other Refugees in Pakistan

Pakistan hosts some 2,000 UNHCR-recognized non-Afghan refugees.  The Pakistan government regards these, however, as illegal aliens, and does not permit them to work or settle in Pakistan permanently.  Most are Iranians, Somalis, and Iraqis.  Pakistan tolerates their presence but expects UNHCR to find durable solutions for them outside Pakistan.  These non-Afghan refugees live under constant fear of the local authorities because of their illegal status, and face police harassment.

The United States should continue to consider members of this population for resettlement, particularly the Somalis, who have access to no resettlement programs except that of the United States.


Afghan and Other Refugees in India

Some 13,700 UNHCR-recognized urban refugees live in India, primarily in New Delhi.  Some 12,700 are Afghans; the remainder are mostly Burmese, Iranians, and Somalis.  UNHCR-recognized refugees have no legal status and are not legally permitted to work in India.  UNHCR provides newly-recognized urban refugees temporary cash assistance, but the organization terminated regular assistance to most long term refugees several years ago.  Instead, UNHCR offered most urban refugees one-time "self-sufficiency" grants that Indian advocacy groups and the refugees themselves have sharply criticized, saying that the grants were too small and that the local authorities prevented refugees from carrying out business activities.  UNHCR has also offered training programs, but graduates rarely found jobs because employers could not legally hire them.  As a result, many refugees have been left in destitution, without access to any further assistance.

Both Afghan and non-Afghan refugees in India face harassment (the police regularly stop them, ask for their papers, and try to blackmail them).  With no legal protection and little possibility for local integration, U.S. resettlement would be an appropriate durable solution for them.

Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal

Some 100,000 ethnic Nepalese refugees from the isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan have been languishing in refugee camps in eastern Nepal for more than a decade.  The refugees, who are Hindu, fled discrimination and human rights abuse at the hands of Bhutan's majority Buddhist Drupka population.  
It is clear that even if the government of Bhutan eventually permits some of the refugees to repatriate, it will never permit the return of thousands of the refugees who the Bhutanese government claims were "illegal immigrants" to Bhutan.  The government of Nepal, which requires the refugees to live in camps because of local people's opposition to their presence, is also unlikely to permit any of the refugees to integrate locally.  Therefore, resettlement may be the only possible durable solution for a number of the Bhutanese refugees.

Rohingya in Bangladesh

More than 200,000 Rohingya refugees fled Burma in the early 1990s.  The Rohingya are an ethnic and religious (Muslim) minority that has suffered persecution in Burma.  Since the mid-1990s, most Rohingya refugees either voluntarily repatriated or were pressured or forced back to Burma by the Bangladesh authorities.  Some 20,000 have consistently resisted repatriation, however.  They live in two closed refugee camps in southern Bangladesh.  Many are fundamentalist Muslims who no longer wish to live in mostly Buddhist Burma.  Bangladesh will not permit members of this group of to settle locally because on several occasions in recent years they have clashed with camp authorities and are therefore regarded as security risks.  There appear to be no long-term options other than resettlement for this group.

© 2021 Jackie Bong Wright. Designed and Developed by Đỗ Mạnh Hùng.