Eid on the run for Afghan refugees in Pakistan

Mass arrests of Afghan refugees have forced them to spend the Muslim festival hiding from Pakistani police

Eid on the run for Afghan refugees in Pakistan

World Bulletin / News Desk

Rooh Ullah and a million other Afghan refugees have had to go on the run. They were supposed to be readying their families for the end of Ramadan and the Muslim Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations this week but have instead been forced to flee the Pakistani police. 

The 52-year-old fears becoming one of the thousands deported from Pakistan because of a crackdown intensified by recent tensions between Islamabad and Kabul but which started after Afghan refugees were blamed for a 2014 massacre in which more than 140 people were killed in a school in Peshawar.

“I have been living here for decades. My children were born, raised and got married here. They know very little about Afghanistan except war but we are being forced to leave the country," the stocky, bearded Rooh Ullah told Anadolu Agency. “It probably will be my last Eid on Pakistani soil as I don’t know how long I will be able to avoid this.”

Until a few months ago he ran a small shop in the northwestern city of Peshawar but some family members were arrested and reported he was forced to seek hide among the massed bodies of the southern port city Karachi, Pakistan's most populous city.

Rooh Ullah is from Afghanistan's northern Kunduz province but has pretended he was from the Pashtun ethnicity found on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border and went to live with a family friend, while his sons went to live in the northeastern Punjab province to avoid deportation. 

“I used to buy clothes and gifts for my grandchildren ahead of Eid but how can I think about all of that in these circumstances? I feel the police could come at any time and throw me out, as I am a refugee and have no legal or human rights," he said.

There are around 3 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, making it the largest refugee population after the Syrians in Turkey. Only about half are registers with the first to live without documents, mostly in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that borders Afghanistan. 

Pakistan last week said it will allow registered refugees to stay until the end of the year but that “the time has come for them to go back to their homeland with respect.”

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) more than 3.8 million refugees have been repatriated to Afghanistan since 2002 but many returned to Pakistan due to ongoing violence, unemployment and a lack of education and medical facilities.

Even Afghan refugees with legal status in Pakistan have complained that they have been harassed to leave Pakistan without being given any compensation for their properties and possession, while they hardly feel like they have returned home when arriving in Afghanistan. 

Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan has denied the claims of harassment and property confiscation, telling reporters in Islamabad last week that Afghan refugees were not supposed to have set up business beyond the refugee camps. 

“Half of my family has been evicted from their homes and deported to Afghanistan, where they have the same status, as refugees,” Naseeb Jan, who runs a small fruit business in Peshawar, told Anadolu Agency.

“They are staying in a refugee camp in Kabul as they were forced to leave everything here except a few belongings,” said Jan, who fears the same for himself.  “There is nothing much on my mind about Eid. I will certainly go to offer Eid prayers, God willing, but nothing more than that. No Eid shopping or outing.”

He said that since the police crackdown, his family has had to restrict its movements because even their identity cards, which are issued by the Pakistani government, do little to protect them. 

“Police are searching public transport [in Peshawar] on a regular basis and if they find a refugee they take him to the police station and then to the Torkhum border to deport them," said Naseeb. 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 05 Temmuz 2016, 15:17