ISLAMABAD (TIP): Pakistan has extended refugee status for over a million Afghans in the country by an additional six months, the government announced, a move likely to ease fears of Afghans living in Pakistan that they would soon have to return home. Pakistan has been hosting hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees dating back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan three decades ago. But many Pakistanis have become increasingly frustrated with the length of time the Afghans have stayed and would like them to leave.
The Pakistani government said in a statement released late Wednesday that refugee status had been set to expire on Dec. 30 and that they would extend it for another six months. The statement said there are 1.6 million registered and 1 million unregistered Afghans in Pakistan. The extension would not affect unregistered Afghans, who are considered illegal residents. The Afghan population in Pakistan is a legacy of Afghanistan’s repeated conflicts, starting with the Soviet Union’s invasion in 1979.
Many refugees can’t fathom returning to Afghanistan any time soon, saying their homeland is still too violent and desperately poor. Ehsanullah Elaj, an Afghan refugee who is a dentist in the city of Rawalpindi next to Islamabad, questioned what would happen to the refugees after the six-month extension expires. “It would be very difficult for us to return to Afghanistan,” Elaj said. “The majority of people want to stay here.”