Afghan or Pakistani? 2nd Generation Migrants!
“‘Please, I beg you, I beg you for my life’, Nadir said again and again in an interview [before deportation] with the immigration officer, Mr. Boyce told” (qtd. in Sundstorm). Pakistanis had welcomed Nadir and thousands of his countrymen, in 1980s, as their war-stricken Muslim Brothers. However, as soon as the Soviet war in Afghanistan ended and US aid to support these Afghan refugees was withdrawn, these brothers changed into ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘terrorists’, and a burden on Pakistan’s economy. As the scenario in Pakistan changed particularly after the 9/11 with the rise of terrorism, these Afghan refugees (or Illegal Afghan immigrants, as they are now known) have nowhere to go; their country is still in the state of war and conflict, but Pakistani Government is moving closer to forcefully sending them back. Although many Pakistanis believe that illegal Afghan immigrants must be sent back to Afghanistan, yet these refugees should be given nationality, education and jobs in the interest of Pakistan itself, because this is the only humanitarian solution to the problem, this will reduce the economic burden on Pakistan, and these refugees are willing to become part of Pakistan.
Giving Afghan refugees the citizenship is the only humanitarian solution since these people have already suffered a lot; Afghanistan is still in the state of war, and they have stayed long enough in Pakistan to be considered ‘Pakistani’. Today most Pakistanis think of Afghan refugees as criminals, terrorists, a liability, and the source of all evils in Pakistan. But what they fail to realize is that these people are the victims themselves. “They [Afghan refugees] fled their country because of war and terrorism and we should not forget this fact that they are innocent victims and we should not victimize [them] again by abusing their human rights and making them forcibly return’, said Maya Ameratunga, UNHCR chief in Pakistan” (qtd. in Gul). These refugees suffered a lot when Pakistan made alliance with the United States in the Soviet War in Afghanistan; now Pakistan has no moral basis to make them suffer again by deporting them, especially when Afghanistan is still in a state of war and there are no signs of peace in the near future. Historically Afghanistan has being in a constant state war and therefore it is illogical to wait for the war to end so that these refugees could be sent back. Moreover, they have already stayed here long enough that they are now more Pakistani than Afghan.
“For these [Afghan] children [born in Pakistan], Pakistan is the only home they know. … Youngsters like Abdul Haleem who were born in Karachi, see no reason why they should be made to go back. ‘I was born and raised here, I went to school here. I have never been to Afghanistan. I am a Pakistani’. ” (Ali).
Furthermore, if Pakistan gives nationality to Afghan refugees, they would contribute to the economy, but on the other hand, making them return forcibly would only burden the economy further. The demographic trend of this refugee population is of particular interest. “…more than 50 percent of the Afghan refugees are children” (Khan). If proper education is provided to these children, they will become valuable human capital in the future, which will help in the development of Pakistan. Moreover, these refugees presently earn their livelihood by doing odd jobs, some of which are illegal, however if they are provided proper training, they will become part of the productive workforce of the country. They will then no longer be a burden on the economy, instead they would then share the tax burden, and would contribute to the GDP. As a result, they would also abandon illegal activities and, the breeding grounds of criminals and terrorists would reduce significantly. This will also reduce both the cost of law enforcement, and the economic damage caused by crimes and terrorism. On the other hand, the economic prospects of forcibly returning these refugees to Afghanistan are not very promising. Firstly, it would be a great financial burden to separate them out from the population and make them go back, since they have blended very well in the society. Secondly, the 2640 kilometers of Pakistan-Afghanistan border cannot be practically sealed and thus there would still be a constant influx of Afghan immigrants, because all of the returned refugees would not be able to settle in the hostile conditions of Afghanistan after having lived for a few decades in Pakistan. Hence, the only permanent and sustainable solution to the problem is making these refugees officially a part of our society.
Finally, these refugees are willing to become part of the Pakistani society. Unlike the popular perception, there are people among these refugees who are willing to get educated and have done so while facing all the biases of the society.
“Life tests student Abdul Khalil, a 30-year-old refugee from Afghanistan, to the limits. Each day, he works between 18 to 19 hours. He starts at 8:00 a.m. from the university where he studies and finishes at a flooring sheet factory at 3:00 a.m. where he works…. Khalil, the only literate member of his family, also has to work because he wanted to continue he studies for which he needed extra resources. Thanks to an UNHCR-supported DAFI scholarship, Khalil was able to enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science (BSCS) at a local university in 2012.” (Khan)
Abdul Khalil was lucky enough to get a scholarship, however if Afghan refugees are given citizenship and equal rights as other Pakistanis have, more of them would get educated. They would no longer be only the illiterate and unskilled part of the population, but they would avail all possible opportunities to become more productive part of the population. The award winning Afghan Refugee teacher, Aqeela Asifi is another example.
[Aqeela] Asifi has been recognized for her brave and tireless dedication to education … while herself overcoming the struggles of life in exile. Despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, Asifi has guided a thousand refugee girls through their primary education. (“UNHCR presents Nansen Refugee Award to Afghan refugee teacher”)
These examples leaves no doubt the Afghan refugees want to continue living in Pakistan as self-reliant part of the community. Their intentions and efforts needs to be acknowledged by giving them the nationality.
The major arguments in favor of forcefully sending Afghan immigrants back are that they are involved in criminal activities, are a burden on economy, and are anti-Pakistan. Afghan immigrants mostly consist of unskilled working class, and without citizenship they have very limited opportunities to have legal jobs and businesses. Therefore naturally they are involved in illegal activities such as drug trafficking, smuggling, robberies, and even terrorism. However, the solution to this is not to send all Afghan immigrants back because there is no way to ensure that they don’t infiltrate back into Pakistan and moreover there are a lot of Pakistanis also involved in these activities, as well, including some of the government employees. Therefore forcing all Afghan people out of Pakistan will not address the actual problem, which is poor law enforcement and corruption at all levels. Secondly it is already discussed above that forcing them out of Pakistan is going to put even more burden on Pakistan’s economy, while giving them nationality is going to reduce this burden. Moving on to the last argument, these people are not anti-Pakistan at all. It is the situation in which they are and negative propaganda against them which has led to this wrong perception.
“For [many Afghan] children Pakistan is the only home they know” (Ali).
These people were never given the chance to contribute positively to Pakistan, and especially after 9/11 all of them have been treated in a very biased way just because a small fraction of Afghan people was involved in terrorist activities. Hence if they are given citizenship and a proper chance, they will become responsible citizens, will shun illegal activities, and will be as patriotic as any other Pakistani.
After living for up to three decades in Pakistan, all that these illegal Afghan immigrants need is to be treated as humans and to be given a chance; a chance to have education, a chance to show civil responsibility, and a chance to show patriotism for Pakistan. Indeed the time has come when Pakistan need to think differently and give these people a chance, so that they can turn themselves from a ‘burden’ to a ‘support’.
After all, the only difference between us and them is, that we migrated to this land centuries ago and they have migrated here just a few decades ago.
Ali, Rabia. “Afghans in Pakistan: Their Home and Heart Belong Here.” The Express Tribune. np. 02 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015. <http://tribune.com.pk/story/846384/afghans-in-pakistan-their-home-and-heart-belong-here/>.
Gul, Ayaz. “Pakistan Says Time For Afghan Refugees to Go Home.” VOA. np. 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015. <http://www.voanews.com/content/pakistan-says-time-for-afghan-refugees-to-go-home/2608031.html>.
Khan, Duniya Aslam. “Making a Difference in Refugees’ Lives through Education.” UNHCR Pakistan. np. 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015. <http://unhcrpk.org/making-a-difference-in-refugees-lives-through-education/>.
Sundstorm, Kathy. “If Nadir Is Sent Back to Afghanistan, He Will Be Killed.” Sunshine Coast Daily. np. 20 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015 <http://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/news/the-taliban-will-kill-me-if-im-sent-home/2679585/>.
“UNHCR Presents Nansen Refugee Award to Afghan Refugee Teacher.” UNHCR Pakistan. np. 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015. <http://unhcrpk.org/unhcr-presents-nansen-refugee-award-to-afghan-refugee-teacher/>.