April 7, 2007:
Afghan refugees in Pakistan continue
to return home. Nearly three million Afghan refugees have returned from exile
in Pakistan in the last five years. Another 2.5 million remain in Pakistan. The
Afghans fled their country in the 1980s to escape Russian troops, and in the
1990s to escape civil war. Those who remain in Pakistan have put down roots.
Many of these refugees settled in with kin when they reached Pakistan, while others
simply found better economic opportunities. Most of these refugees were
Pushtuns, and it's largely Pushtuns living on both sides of the border.
The "return" season begins on March 1st, and this
March about 40,000 Afghans returned home. The UN helped the process this year
by increasing the "Assistance Package" payment for each retuning refugee from
$30 to $100. That's a lot of money in a part of the world where a hundred
dollars a month is a good wage. Nevertheless, Pakistan is worried that many of
the remaining Afghans will refuse to ever return home. Pakistan recently ran a
registration of Afghan refugees, and got 2.1 million to report their presence.
In return, the refugees got a Proof of Registration identity cards, which
enabled them to obtain food, and other benefits (mostly paid for by foreign aid
donors), for another three years. But Pakistani registration officials estimate
that some 400,000 refugees did not register, and were apparently planning on
staying permanently (and did not want to be identified, even if it meant losing
Refugees who won't go home is a common problem, the
longer refugees remain in exile. There are dozens of similar cases around the
world, and when the host country cannot, or will not, absorb the stubborn
refugees, you have yourself another source of unrest and violence.