Millennium Post

Outsiders in a borderless world

Pakistan fanned the ever-present debate over refugee accommodation on Friday, when it brought up the subject of deporting some 400,000 Afghan refugees. The Pakistan government has expressed its inability to bear the burden of so many refugees – approximately 1.7 million Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan at present. Afghanistan, war-ravaged and poor, is apprehensive about the homecoming of so many, who had crossed over to the neighbouring country to avoid the disturbance at home. Food, shelter and jobs are things that the fledgling Afghan government is not confident of being able to provide to its people right now. While the international community and often even the well-off in the host country, are quick to condemn the government of not taking care of its refugee population, the lower-middle class and the poor of the host country are the ones who are truly able to appreciate the problems in being a good host.

Countries like India and Pakistan, struggling with their own uneducated, unemployed, poverty-stricken, homeless masses, have little extra to offer to refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has described the situations of Afghans in Pakistan as the ‘largest and most protracted refugee crisis in the world’. There is something heartbreaking about people who have been forced to leave their homes and livelihoods and are living in squalor, in makeshift refugee colonies, at the mercy of someone’s charity. The very term refugee, reeks of condescension. But not to those from the host country living in equally poor conditions. It is natural for them to be suspicious of the refugees, to look upon them as competitors for the same resources – alms, odd-jobs, shanty-space. This economic insecurity often makes them cruel in their interactions with the refugees. If the refugees’ plight attract donations from kindhearted NGOs or international bodies, this cruelty increases. And thus starts a relationship of mutual-hatred – the refugees too in time come to hate the people in the host country where they feel unwanted and segregated.

As the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan carry on diplomatic talks to resolve the refugee crisis, the ones who suffer, are the people. Having spent years away from home, they will be refugees or outsiders even in their own countries, were they to return. So what is the remedy to the problem? Force Pakistan to support the refugees, or put pressure on Afghanistan to take back its people. The solution might lie in the UN in taking a more active role in helping improve the lot of poor, displaced people in any country, in approaching richer countries like US and the European powers to stop negotiating military help to Afghanistan and help with funds to improve the country’s infrastructure. But with the West staring at yet another economic crisis, chances of that happening too seem slim.
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