UN cuts cash incentive to Afghan refugees in Pakistan

UN cuts cash incentive to Afghan refugees in Pakistan

Voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan is set resume on Monday with a cut in the cash incentive for returnees, a UNHCR official said. 

The repatriation grant for registered Afghan refugees this year has been set to $200 from the previous amount of $400.

Pakistan hosts 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees, in addition to nearly a million unregistered Afghans, of which 600,000 live in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan.

“The amount before [the cut] at least helped us with our basic needs during our return to Afghanistan, but something is at least better than not having money at all … an uncertain future awaits us,” Ilyas, an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, who sells ice-cream in Peshawar, told Al Jazeera.

READ MORE: A hard winter – Afghan refugees return from Pakistan

UNHCR told Al Jazeera that the cut was due to funding shortages, but many Afghans still continued registering to leave.

“We could not sustain the amount of $400 for Afghans leaving Pakistan due to budget cuts, but the money they get will at least cover their transportation cost,” Dunya Khan, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Islamabad, told Al Jazeera.

Some 16,000 refugees have registered themselves for repatriation this week with the UNHCR programme in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Pakistan justified the move to deport registered and unregistered Afghans on the grounds of national security, accusing some the refugees of posing a threat, which has led to a crackdown on the community.

By the end of last year, as many as 370,000 registered refugees had returned under UNHCR’s repatriation programme.

‘When will you leave?’

A commonly used term in Pashto to mock Afghan refugees in Pakistan is ‘Kala ba zai’, or ‘when will you leave?’

The term, used to taunt Afghans, has been the theme of an hourlong Pashto comedy TV drama that depicts the life of Afghans in Pakistan, highlighting the difficulties they face.

READ MORE: Pakistan deports ‘green-eyed girl’ Sharbat Gula

Zabih Janbaz, the Pakistani actor who stars as an Afghan refugee, now faces anger from within the Afghan community in Pakistan for spreading the term.

In his defence, Janbaz said the term was used well before the drama was produced and that he did not invent it. 

“My intentions were not to hurt our Afghan brothers; all I did was play a role as an actor. This is my profession, but unfortunately this profession is not appreciated in our region. They took it too seriously and forgot to enjoy the drama,” Janbaz told Al Jazeera. 

Janbaz stressed the importance of Afghans in Pakistan and called them “brothers”. He is now working to produce a film in Afghanistan, ‘Kala ba razae’, or ‘when will you come back?’.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Abdul Wahab, a citizen of Pakistan residing in Peshawar, giggled when asked about ‘Kala ba zae’.

“When the borders are closed we jokingly ask them (Afghans) ‘Singa ba zae?’, which means, ‘how will you go?’, referring to Pakistan’s decisions on February 16 to seal the Torkham and Chaman crossings after a string of suicide attacks killed more than 130 people across the country.

But last month, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the immediate reopening of border crossings with Afghanistan.

“Not many Afghans react to these terms anymore, they just reply back saying ‘we had to return back to our country one day, so here we are,'” Wahab said.

Why is Pakistan forcing Afghan refugees back home? – Inside Story

Source: Al Jazeera News