04/23/2024, 19.41
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Afghan children, expelled from Pakistan, without food or education at home

According to a survey by Save the Children, 250,000 children are not in school. About 99 per cent of repatriated families face a food crisis, 40 per cent have had to borrow money, one in six lives in tents. Many were born across the border, and Afghanistan "is not the place they call home.”

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – More than 250,000 children in Afghanistan need education, food, and shelter after Pakistan forcibly repatriated them in recent months in a campaign to get rid of refugees many now targeted by the Taliban.

A recently released survey by Save the Children dedicated to Afghan children raises the alarm – almost two-thirds of those who have returned have not been enrolled in school.

According to the NGO, most do not have the necessary documents to register in school, which are now open mostly to boys after the Taliban banned girls' education beyond the sixth grade.

This is a far cry from the situation in Pakistan, where most (more than 75 per cent according to the survey) had regular access to schools.

Pakistan has cracked down on foreigners it considers to be illegal residents of the country, and that includes 1.7 million Afghans.

Pakistani authorities insist that the campaign is not directed specifically against Afghans, but the latter are the vast majority. Upon returning home, many risk being persecuted by the ruling Taliban for past "collaboration" with the United States.

The latest available data indicate that more than 520,000 Afghans left Pakistan since the expulsion policy began last October.

The NGO notes that many families return to Afghanistan "with virtually nothing" and that almost half of all repatriations concern children.

Almost all households (about 99 per cent) do not have enough food for the coming months and many returning migrants (40 per cent) have had to borrow money to buy food or have had to rely on donations from friends and relatives.

Nearly eight million children in Afghanistan, or one in three, are facing hunger and malnutrition. Almost one in six families live in tents, and most returnees have little or no means of support.

Only a third were able to bring goods from Pakistan with them. Almost half (47 per cent) said there is no work in Afghanistan and 81 per cent said they lack the skills needed to work.

The survey cites the case of Raihana, 15-year-old girl who lives with her grandfather after returning with her mother and three siblings.

The family sold everything before leaving Pakistan. Now “We are in desperate need of aid. We need shelter, living essentials, winter clothing, shoes, blankets, food and medicine,” Raihana said. “Afghanistan is very cold for us, and it is challenging because we do not have winter clothing. My sister and brother became ill”.

Arshad Malik, Save the Children country director for Afghanistan, notes that the return of so many people is putting additional pressure on an already stretched system that is deficient in many respects.

“Many undocumented Afghan children were born in Pakistan - Afghanistan is not the place they call home,” he explained.

In addition to the repatriations from Pakistan, 600,000 Afghans "arrived from Iran last year.”

Abdul Mutalib Haqqani, spokesman for the Taliban regime’s Ministry of Refugees, dismissed the criticism, saying that education was available to any children who was missing out on classes.

“They can register in any class and continue to learn, whether they have documents or not,” he said. “This problem has been solved by us.”

The decision taken by Pakistan to deport Afghans who entered illegally has been heavily criticised and caused a serious emergency, because many of the Afghan immigrants had been living in the country for decades driven by past wars and violence.

(Picture from Save the Children website)

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