ISLAMABAD: UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in collaboration with the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), marked the World Refugee Day on Friday 20 June with a series of events across Pakistan involving the Government of Pakistan, UNHCR, its partners, and refugee communities. The theme of World Refugee Day is “1 family torn apart by war is too many”.
A report released today by UNHCR, “War’s Human Cost: UNHCR Global Trends 2013”, shows that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.
51.2 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2013, fully six million more than the 45.2 million reported in 2012. This massive increase was driven mainly by the war in Syria, which at the end of last year had forced 2.5 million people into becoming refugees and made 6.5 million internally displaced. Internal displacement globally amounted to a record 33.3 million people. For UNHCR and other humanitarian actors, helping these people represents a special challenge, as many are in conflict zones, where getting aid to them is difficult and where they lack the international protection norms afforded to refugees.
By the end of 2013, Pakistan continued to host the largest number of refugees in the world (1.6 million), nearly all from Afghanistan. The situation is similar for the Islamic Republic of Iran, which hosted 857,400 refugees by year-end, almost all Afghans. At the same time voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan to Afghanistan has also been the largest in the world, with 3.8 million having been assisted by UNHCR to return home since 2002.
With some 2.56 million refugees in 86 countries, Afghanistan remained the leading country of origin of refugees in 2013 – the 33rd consecutive year it has topped this list. Today, on average, one out of every five refugees in the world is from Afghanistan, with 95 per cent located in Pakistan or the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The regional Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees, concluded in 2012 by the Governments of the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, as well as UNHCR, with the support of the international community, provides a regional framework for finding solutions for Afghan refugees. The strategy helps Afghan refugees to return home safely and voluntarily and to reintegrate as citizens in their own country. The strategy also provides support for host countries, for example through the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) programme. Over the past five years, this assistance in various areas such as education, health and water/sanitation projects, provided by UNHCR and its sister agencies, has reached nearly four million Pakistan citizens, in addition to half a million Afghan refugees, and continues to help communities throughout the country where refugees have lived in the past or are currently living.
Almost a year ago, the Government of Pakistan took the commendable initiative of adopting a National Policy on the Repatriation and Management of Afghan Refugees. As part of this policy, the Government is renewing the Proof of Registration cards of Afghan refugees, with validity until the end of 2015. So far, some 90% of the refugees have renewed their cards at PoR Card Modification Centres. The remaining PoR card holders must do so by August 2014 in order to remain as refugees.
Speaking at the World Refugee Day commemorative event in Islamabad, Ms. Maya Ameratunga, Officer-in-Charge of UNHCR, said, “Pakistan has generously hosted the world’s largest refugee population for three decades, and it is essential to mobilize more support from the international community to sustain efforts such as the RAHA initiative, which is a way of thanking the hosts of these refugees. At a time when war and conflict are causing such high levels of forced displacement, the international community must also find solutions to halt or prevent conflict. Humanitarian help is a palliative, not a cure.”
To commemorate the event, in Islamabad UNHCR with the help of its partner agencies set-up free medical clinics for refugees in I-12 Afghan refugee settlement, where patients received treatment for eye diseases, dental problems, general medical assistance and health and hygiene sessions. A huge turnout was witnessed at the medical camp.
The Representative of UNICEF, Mr Dan Rohrmann, and UNHCR OIC, Ms. Ameratunga, together with the Minister of SAFRON, distributed non-food packages for refugees, which included solar lamps, mosquito nets, mats and school supplies.
Similar events took place in Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi to express solidarity with refugees. Speakers praised Pakistan’s long history of generously hosting the world’s largest refugee population.