Islamabad (Khyber Mail): Experts convened at a panel discussion hosted by the Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) emphasized the critical role of data in managing Afghan migrants effectively within Pakistan. The discussion, held on Monday, underscored the need for a centralized repository encompassing all categories of Afghan migrants, including UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) registered refugees, Afghan Citizenship Card (ACC) holders, and undocumented individuals.

During the session, speakers highlighted the current fragmented state of migrant data, stressing the necessity for unified data management to facilitate efficient government decision-making. They called for enhanced coordination between Pakistan’s government and the UNHCR to streamline efforts in addressing the challenges posed by Afghan migration.

Ambassador Jauhar Saleem, President of IRS, outlined Pakistan’s evolving strategies in migrant management, emphasizing the dual objective of facilitating safe repatriation while safeguarding national security interests.

Human Rights lawyer Syed Muaz Shah addressed the increased influx of Afghan refugees following the 2021 Taliban regime change, citing a rise from 1.44 million to 2.18 million refugees in Pakistan. He advocated for respecting refugees’ rights under international law to seek refuge and employment opportunities in Pakistan.

Brigadier Shozab Majeed, an expert in international law and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), highlighted Pakistan’s longstanding management of Afghan refugees independently since 1996, emphasizing the strain on Pakistan’s economy. He proposed leveraging Afghan refugees’ potential contributions to Pakistan’s economy through strategic opportunities to mitigate economic challenges and prevent exploitation loopholes.

Former Secretary Defence Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Asif Yasin Malik stressed the urgency of a pragmatic policy to incentivize Afghan refugees’ voluntary repatriation in collaboration with UNHCR and the Afghan interim government. He emphasized the importance of ensuring the safety and security of all residents, advocating for a time-sensitive approach to address the evolving situation effectively.

The panel concluded with a consensus on the imperative need for integrated data systems and collaborative policy frameworks to manage Afghan migration sustainably and securely in Pakistan.

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