By Robin Gomes
Caritas Pakistan has alerted its diocesan units bordering neighbouring Afghanistan to reach out to refugees fleeing their homes the Taliban. Thousands of Afghans have entered Pakistan via the Chaman border crossing, one of the most active trade and travel routes between the countries, according to media reports.
However, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid on Aug. 18 claimed that there were no refugees entering the country, nor has Pakistan made preparation for Afghans seeking refuge. According to BBC News, while the Taliban are not letting anyone out, except traders or those with valid travel documents, Pakistan, which is already burdened with some 1.4 million Afghan refugees, has been fencing itself off from Afghanistan, making it impossible for more refugees to enter without government consent.
Caritas gearing up for emergency
Amjad Gulzar, executive director of Caritas Pakistan, said more than 200 families have already arrived in urban areas of Quetta in Balochistan province.
“Caritas Pakistan Quetta and Caritas Pakistan Islamabad-Rawalpindi have positioned themselves so that we can respond to the emerging humanitarian crisis,” he told UCA News. He said that Pashto-speaking staff may be engaged in both field offices. Caritas says refugee crises are often protracted and require strategies that reflect both short-term needs such as water, food, first aid and immunization, and mid-to-long term challenges such as mental health, trauma, chronic diseases and education. Gulzar said Caritas staff have been “alerted to avoid any controversial social media posts about the Taliban”. Caritas Pakistan has had a meeting with the Afghan Refugees Commissioner Office in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, to pledge its cooperation.
Pakistan is not a party to the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, nor the 1967 Protocol. However, Caritas Pakistan worked with Afghan refugees in the 70s, 90s and in 2001 following the US invasion.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), officially 1.4 million Afghan refugees still live in Pakistan, with over 300,000 in the southern seaport of Karachi. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north has 43 refugee camps for Afghans.
With an estimated total of 2.6 million refugees, Afghanistan ranks third among the world’s source countries, after Syria and Venezuela. With the current crisis, that number is likely to increase.
UN committed to Afghans
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for international unity on Afghanistan, insisting that human rights are upheld, humanitarian aid continues, and that the country does not again become a hotbed of terrorism. Addressing an emergency session of the Security Council on August 16, the day after the Afghan capital fell to the Taliban, he said the international community was following the developments in Afghanistan “with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead.”
He noted, “Conflict has forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.” “The capital city has seen a huge influx of internally displaced persons from provinces around the country where they felt insecure or fled during the fighting.” The humanitarian crisis, he said, affects 18 million people, fully half of the country’s population. He urged that basic services continue to be provided.
The UN chief reminded all parties of their obligation to protect civilians and to allow humanitarian workers unimpeded access to deliver timely and life-saving services and aid. He also urged “all countries to be willing to receive Afghan refugees and refrain from any deportations”.
Guterres said the UN will stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need. “The world is watching. We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan,” he added.
The bishops of the US have said that Catholic organizations and partners have been assisting the US government in welcoming Afghan refugees and their families, and pledged to work to ensure that those in danger are brought to safety. The German bishops’ conference also called on western countries to help evacuate Afghans who are most at risk for having worked with foreign agencies and armed forces. The bishops urged help for countries in the region to accept and care for refugees from Afghanistan. They also called on the European Union to be prepared to welcome refugees who arrive in Europe. Similar appeals on behalf of Afghan refugees also came from Irish and Australian bishops. (Source: UCA News, UN)