Monday, May 12, 2014

Pakistan cracks down on Afghan immigrants, fearing an influx as U.S. leaves Afghanistan --- PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN — After three decades of hosting the world’s largest refugee population, Pakistani authorities have started to crack down on the flow of Afghans, as fears mount that the U.S. pullout from their war-torn neighbor could trigger chaos on the border. -- Pakistan and Iran absorbed more than 7 million Afghan refugees after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 touched off years of fighting. Many of the refugees went home after U.S.-backed Afghan forces dislodged the Taliban in 2001. -- Now officials here worry that the rapid U.S. drawdown and a decline in Western aid could lead to growing violence and desperation in Afghanistan, prompting residents to flee to Pakistan again. -- “I believe this influx is already here,” said Mohammed Abbas Khan, a commissioner at Pakistan’s Office of Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees. “We are in a very tight situation ourselves, so having this influx is not desirable to anyone in the world.” -- There are no firm figures on the number of new arrivals. But in recent weeks, Pakistani officials say, they have been fielding calls from frantic local authorities about new illegal settlements. -- To discourage the immigrants, local officials in northwestern Pakistan are implementing policies that could make it harder for Afghans to rent apartments or erect new squatter camps. In the southern city of Karachi, new police squads are tasked with hunting down illegal Afghan immigrants. And along Pakistan’s 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan, federal officials are preparing to implement new screening procedures. -- The crackdown is occurring as Iran is increasingly pressuring the 800,000 Afghan refugees there to leave, according to human rights groups. -- In Pakistan, the tightening of controls reflects concerns about the fragile situation in Afghanistan and about this country’s own stability. There are about 1.6 million legally registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan, but officials think that 1 to 3 million more are in the country illegally. -- “We want them to go back to their own country,” said Sartaj Aziz, the national security and foreign affairs adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Aziz said that the refugees are a burden on the weak economy and that their presence makes it easier for Islamist militants with ties to Afghanistan to operate undetected in this nation. --- When Afghans started flooding into Pakistan after 1979, they were greeted as Muslim brothers who shared the goal of driving the Soviets from Afghanistan. -- They were housed in sprawling camps near the border. Pakistan worked with countries such as the United States to line up food and other support for the refugees, some of whom would cross back into Afghanistan as mujahideen fighters to battle the Soviets. -- But over time, most of the remaining Afghan refugees moved to Pakistani cities in search of jobs. With most new arrivals also flocking to urban areas, friction between Afghans and Pakistanis has intensified. -- Many Afghan refugees are Pashtun, an ethnic group whose rapid growth is altering the demographic makeup of a country that had been dominated by ethnic Punjabis. Pashtuns are now Pakistan’s second-largest ethnic group, eclipsing the Sindhis, who primarily reside in southern Pakistan. -- The backlash against the Afghan settlers appears to be driven in part by suspicion that they are more tolerant of Pashtun-dominated militant groups, such as the Pakistani Taliban, which have carried out a campaign of terror in recent years. -- In a sign of that concern, in early March authorities sent bulldozers to destroy a settlement on the outskirts of Islamabad, the capital, that housed more than 100 Afghan families. Many residents said they had lived there for nearly three decades. -- Two days after the operation, several families said they had not found shelter. Children were using cardboard boxes as blankets as men dug through the rubble, hoping to salvage bricks. -- “They didn’t give us any warning,” said Parvez, 20, who has only one name and lives with 12 brothers and sisters. “We still have not eaten breakfast because the kitchen was demolished.” - More, Tim Craig, Washingtonpost,


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