How much will it cost Pakistan if it hosts 700K Afghan refugees for 3 years?

According to the inter-ministerial committee’s estimates (conveyed to the cabinet in its last meeting), 500,000 to 700,000 Afghan refugees might come to Pakistan.

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According to media reports, Pakistan has deferred the approval of a new policy to handle an influx of Afghan refugees that seeks $2.2 billion international aid to take care of 700,000 immigrants. The immigrants are being described as “Externally Displaced Afghans” (EDAs) instead of refugees by the authorities.

Details of the Policy

Reports state that four inter-ministerial committee meetings were held by the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions between May and July of this year. In the last meeting, the policy had been presented to the Federal Cabinet for approval.

The policy document showed the estimated cost for housing 700,000 million Afghan refugees in secure and exclusive camps at $2.2 billion for three years. The cost includes expenditures on registration, transportation, camp management, food, and other sustenance amenities.

According to sources, the cabinet discussed the policy in detail during the meeting but postponed its final approval. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said:

The prime minister has issued directions to improve the policy’s language and finalize it at the earliest.

Impact of the Policy Implementation

Pakistan’s Mission in Afghanistan has stated that around one million individuals may be affected by the post-draw-down scenario following the implementation of the policy. The authorities believe that the fresh influx of Afghan refugees may not be stopped, and preparations for influx may be made.

According to the inter-ministerial committee’s estimates (conveyed to the cabinet in its last meeting), 500,000 to 700,000 Afghan refugees might come to Pakistan.

Afghan Refugee Stats in Pakistan

It is pertinent to mention that there are currently 1.44 million registered Afghan refugees, including 840,000 Afghan citizen cardholders having non-refugee status and 770,000 undocumented Afghan nationals in Pakistan.

According to experts, the protracted presence of Afghan citizens has adversely affected the local economic, social, and security conditions. The situation has become increasingly challenging due to a gradual and significant reduction in international financial support for Afghan refugees.

The Inter-Ministerial Committee shared that the mechanism to send the refugees back to their home country, either on stoppage of relief assistance/funds or on the improvement of conditions inside Afghanistan, should be ensured and is agreed to by all, including global partners and stakeholders.

Pakistan’s Reaction to Afghan refugees influx

The policy draft reads:

Pakistan’s first choice would be not to accept an influx of Afghan citizens and resist it as far as possible. The government of Afghanistan and international organizations will be urged to facilitate the settlement of displaced Afghan citizens in safe areas within Afghanistan.

In this regard, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry stated:

Pakistan could not afford to host more refugees, but in case of any influx, the government would restrict them to camps that will be set up away from city centers. The displaced Afghan nationals may be granted entry and placed in secured camps in border regions away from urban centers and sensitive sites.

The Information Minister further shared:

This may be done under a trilateral (Pakistan, Afghanistan, and UNHCR) agreement, subject to assurance of sustainable financial support from the international community until their return to Afghanistan through an early, time-bound, and well-resourced repatriation plan. The trilateral agreement should not exclusively include the provision of non-refoulment. Pakistan’s economy is under severe constraints, and the International community must play its part and not put all burden on the country.

The local authorities have identified ten sites in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and four in Balochistan to settle the Afghan refugees.  These are Shalman Camp, Tedi Bazar, Shah Kas, Binshahi Nagar, Kherabad, Nawab cam, Tabi camp, and Dera Mandi Camp in Chaghai, Chaman, and Badini in Balochistan.

Refugee Acceptance according to the Draft Policy

The draft policy reads that accepting such an influx may invoke the non-refoulment clause under international customary law. Therefore, it would be challenging to send such persons back to Afghanistan, leading to another protracted refugee situation.

The government would preferably restrict the entry of these refugees to Pakistan through Torkham and Chaman border points. NADRA will undertake the registration process under the supervision of the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence.

The Inter-Ministerial Committee recommends that the new influx of Afghan refugees should not be given refugee status, similar to POR cardholders but may be registered as EDAs with comprehensive identity and personal details. This funding would need to be secured from international donors through an international appeal, to be launched in partnership with the UNHCR, focusing on grants or in-kind aid.

Inter-Ministerial Committee fears limited Cooperation from fellow Organizations

The authorities of the Inter-Ministerial Committee stated:

During a meeting with the UN agencies, the UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO, and WFP, the response was not encouraging, and there was no indication of any long-term commitment for the provision of regular and sustainable funds.

The Inter-Ministerial Committee believes that international organizations and foreign governments may request Pakistan to accept the new influx on humanitarian grounds even though Pakistan is not a signatory to the Refugees Convention of 1951 or the Protocol of 1967.

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