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Home > 2023 > Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Nov 11, Nov 18, 2023

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 46-47 November 11 & November 18, 2023

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Nov 11, Nov 18, 2023

Saturday 11 November 2023


According to UNHCR global estimates, some 108.4 million people were forcibly displaced by the end of 2022. These days world’s media is focused on the war in Gaza it has more or less forgotten about the war in Sudan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Russia-Ukraine war. All of these wars have left hundreds of thousands of people displaced and turned into war refugees. Closer home in South Asia, over the past five decades successive wars & conflict led to several million Afghans fleeing and seeking refuge in Iran and in Pakistan. An estimated 700,000 hundred thousand Afghan refugees moved to Pakistan in 2021 after the Taliban took power in Kabul. A large number of these recent migrants to Pakistan don’t have adequate papers and are managing precariously unlike the previous generation of Afghans who migrated to Pakistan in the early 1980s. Hundreds of thousands of recent Afghan refugees are now facing expulsion from Pakistan as the country’s government has ordered to remove undocumented citizens. The Pakistani government wants people without legal documents to leave, or face forced deportation. About 200,000 Afghan migrants have left for Afghanistan and thousands more are under pressure to leave. This expulsion is a case of grave injustice since the Afghan economy has collapsed, there is a lack of food and there have been multiple earthquakes recently, it is severe winter time now and a huge number of Afghans are being made to leave (many had fled from the harsh regime of the Taliban and were also seeking asy­lum in Western countries. Forced return of Afghan refugees to Taliban ruled Afghanistan is likely put their lives at risk), will find it difficult to find work or homes at short notice. India which had important bilateral relations with the Western-propped Afghan regime till its collapse and its Taliban takeover, has more or less closed its doors to Afghans. Like Pakistan, India has no clear refugee policy even though these two countries saw one of the world’s largest forced human displacements triggered by India’s partition of 1947 and had to provide for refugees from the two newly independent countries. Decades later India hosted nearly 10 million refugees from East Pakistan triggered by the Bangladesh war of 1971. Human rights groups in Pakistan have pointed out that the state of Pakistan doesn’t quite have the required administrative capacity for the identification and expulsion of undocumented migrants/refugees which will lead to a lot of intimidation and blunders by police causing huge human rights violations. The question of state capacity particularly in societies with large informal economies is the key here and holds true across South Asia. We had already witnessed in India over the past decade, the surreal case of the project of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) with hundreds of people being rounded up and held in detention camps in the northeastern state of Assam after the country stripped nearly 1.9 million people of citizenship in 2019. This was preceded by a hugely expensive and complicated process where 33 million residents submitted papers to prove their citizenship and scrutiny by rag-tag citizenship tribunals generated a final list retaining 31.1 million names —often with huge blunders. Across the region, documentation on land ownership, taxation, birth, marriage, educational certificates, driving licenses, voter ID cards, and National IDs is not easy to obtain for all legitimate citizens and is subject to manipulation and corruption. It is time for India, the largest country in South Asia to streamline its systems come up with an internationally recognised model refugee law, and allow foreign refugees to obtain all social benefits like other citizens and never have to face mass deportation. Social Democrats, left activists, and civil society groups must initiate education in society for fair treatment of all foreign migrants & refugees and come up with concrete proposals for a forward-looking model legislation.

November 11, 2023 —HK

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