Plights of Afghan refugees in Pakistan

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 7:51:01 by

Pakistan extended the deadline for repatriation of Afghan refugees, which was set to expire on 30th June 2013. The decision was taken at the request of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a United Nations Agency working for the protection of refugees.

Pakistan has been playing host to Afghan refugees since more than three decades. Although, according to latest statistics, a total of 3,818,582 individuals have been repatriated to Afghanistan between 2002 and 2013, nevertheless, there are currently more than 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees who are yet to leave and are still residing in Pakistan. 

Out of them, approximately 37% of registered Afghan refugees live in 80 refugee camps of which 79 are located along the borders with Afghanistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, while 63% live in rural and urban areas of Pakistan. In addition, there are reportedly some 0.6 million unregistered Afghans present in the country.

According to reports, Afghan refugees in Pakistan are increasingly becoming victims of extortion, illegal detention and harassment.

The most concerning part of these refugees is their living circumstance. Sexual abuse against refugees is a universal problem, as vulnerable situation of the displaced people make them an easy target for abuse and violence by those in authority in strong position.

Children and women in particular are most prone to sexual abuse in exchange for money and other assistance. Many of the Afghan refugees live in slum areas throughout the country.

In Islamabad specifically, Pir Wadhai and Raja Bazar are areas of open sewers and hundreds of small restaurants, hotels, vegetable stands and workshops, home to poor and marginalised Pakistanis as well as thousands of Afghan refugees. These places are centre of child sexual abuse, particularly in Afghanis.

The station “has a steady flow of traders, drivers and soldiers from all parts of Pakistan, many of whom come to these hotels with the explicit intention of sexually abusing these boys anonymously,” and the children are between the ages of 9 and 16.

The district is awash with children and, given Pakistan’s poor economic situation, children are often employed as cheap labour or in child prostitution.

‘Confronting Reality’, a report from last year on the sexual exploitation and abuse of children in Pakistan by the Child Rights and Abuse Committee and Save the Children (Sweden), suggested that this could be due to a lack of awareness regarding the psychological effects of molestation.

More disturbing was the feeling that maybe these other forms of abuse were not considered serious crimes but an accepted part of daily life in Pakistan, the report stated.

A non-governmental organization reported several incidents of child abuse in the area. “The boy, who ran away to his sister’s house after he was first sexually abused, is working at a local hotel as a waiter and secretly as a male-prostitute” it added.

 “Now I am settled in Rawalpindi and comfortable with my work. Don’t waste your time on us, if you really want to do something, try to help the new innocent boys that are arriving now,” he was cited in the report.

Another, cited in a survey, said he sometimes serviced up to 10 clients per night. “Oh please, whatever you want to do with me, do it… But be quick, I’m in a hurry!” was the reaction of another child.

Apart from hotel workers, many boys are abused by their employers at vegetable stands, or in the many workshops and garages in the area where they work. In most cases, these boys are illegal residents and economically dependent on their employers, they cannot defend themselves from exploitation.

Sometimes abusers lure the children with sweets, toys and money; sometimes they use verbal threats and physical force.

The government hasn’t taken any meaningful steps to discourage the abuse of children, irrespective of their identities.   

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