Remarks by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan
International Conference on 40Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan:
A New Partnership for Solidarity
(17 February, 2020)
Secretary General Guterres,
High Commissioner Grandi,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I welcome you all to the beautiful city of Islamabad.
Your presence, today, to mark the 40 years of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, is a testimony of solidarity with Afghan refugees and their hosting communities.
I commend the Secretary General Guterres and High Commissioner Grandi for their leadership in advocating and building conducive environments for the refugees worldwide.
Over the last four decades, nearly three generations of Afghan refugees sought shelter in Pakistan, fleeing from violence and war in their homeland.
At its peak, Pakistan hosted 5 million refugees.
Even today, we continue to host 3 million registered and unregistered Afghan refugees, which remains second largest protracted refugee crisis in the world.
Pakistan’s cooperation to deal with this crisis is guided by the basic principles of Islamic values to provide shelter and hospitality to the refugee on compassionate grounds.
The Pak-Afghan relationship, which is also anchored in shared history, common faith and cultural affinity, has provided an impetus to host millions of Afghan refugees in my country.
The First Global Refugee Forum (GRF), where Prime Minister Imran Khan along with the UN Secretary General gathered in Geneva in December 2019, resulted in a large number of commitments and pledges for refugees.
A significant step was taken to launch Support Platform (SP) for Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR). The Support Platform was jointly launched by Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and UNHCR.
Among other things, the Support Platform aims to promote and support refugee return, provides assistance to host countries and communities and enhance capacity for sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan.
Every Afghan refugee is hoping that this Conference would seize the opportunity provided by a rare confluence of forces where expectation for peace in Afghanistan have not only risen but are also rising every day.
They are looking at this Conference with great hopes and expectations. They are aiming for increased enrolment places in schools, colleges and universities.
They are also expecting that together you will give an unprecedented support to the peace process.
Afghan refugees are now expecting that with hope for peace, you will help them rebuild their country.
They want to know, if you will equip them with required skills and resources.
Their aspirations are genuine and must be met with equal opportunities.
Today, I am asking you to join hands with Pakistan to provide their basic needs and enable them to live a dignified life.
No State can handle the magnitude of this crisis, alone.
International cooperation is required more than ever before.
It is imperative that you revalidate the principles of sharing responsibility and burden.
For Pakistan, the caring for refugees is shaped by the humane values of our people; the values of generosity, compassion and hospitality.
Despite constraints, Pakistan has provided protection, offered opportunities for education, health, livelihoods and social mobility to millions of Afghan refugees.
As much as Pakistan can, we have provided vocational training and skill-based programmes as part of efforts to help build human capital for a prosperous Afghan nation.
We are also taking measures such as allowing opening of bank accounts to facilitate their participation in our formal economy so that they live a life of self-reliance.
We have registered nearly 1 million undocumented and virtually stateless Afghans in Pakistan.
This identity entitles them to return to Afghanistan, obtain legal travel documents, benefit from generous visa policy of Pakistan and contribute to the development of their country of origin as well as destination.
We are also pursuing a policy of return of Afghan refugees with dignity, safety and honour.
Pakistan prefers adoption of a strategic approach – one that prevents the conflicts from eruption and one that seeks to resolve long-standing disputes.
Peace and stability in Afghanistan is indispensible.
Pakistan would continue to facilitate the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.
Today, I would like to avail this opportunity to place before you seven point agenda to convert the Support Platform for Solution Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) into an implementable action agenda.
This is all the more important when the peace and reconciliation efforts are making headways:
One, extend support to the Afghan peace process as an enabler of settling Afghan refugees and to help ease the global refugee burden.
Two,renew your commitments and pledges to bridge the gap between the requirements of Afghan refugees and host communities created due to insufficient resources for their protection and well-being.
Three,reinforce existing partnerships, forge new ones and encourage additional states, international organizations, and other stakeholders to come forward to fulfill this collective responsibility towards Afghan refugees and host communities.
Four,extend and enhance resettlement opportunities for Afghan refugees in third countries.
Five,establish complementary pathways for the Afghan refugees in the form of additional scholarships, employable skills trainings and job opportunities by supporting services infrastructure of the host communities.
Six, enhance assistance for living conditions in high return areas in Afghanistan, particularly, in East bordering region in Pakistan.
Seven,create an international fund to help return of the Afghan refugees and to de-risk the private sector for investing and building human capital for Afghan refugees and creating economic opportunities for them in the host communities.
Finally, I take this opportunity to reaffirm that the Government and people of Pakistan will continue to support their Afghan brothers and sisters who have chosen to stay in our country as a place of safety and refuge.
We will also work with the international community on developing a gradual, time-bound, and well-resourced and mutually agreed road map on refugee return. This should be a vital component of peace deal for stability and sustainable prosperity in Afghanistan.
I thank you all.