PESHAWAR: Gulalai says her marriage is falling apart. In the wake of repatriation of Afghan refugees to their home country, her husband, an Afghan national, has said he cannot stay any longer and will have to return to Afghanistan sooner or later. And he wants to take away their two sons and a daughter with him. “It is a difficult decision to choose between my parents and my children,” says Gulalai of Tehsil Jamrud in Khyber Agency. “If I decide to live with my children and husband, I will have to move to Afghanistan and say goodbye to my family and my country.” She says she cannot imagine a life without her children, but the government has refused to provide nationality to the children of Afghan nationals. She has been residing in Peshawar, capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; and has lived there most of her life. “The prospect of starting a happy life at this age in a country ridden with uncertainty and terrorism seem bleak,” says Gulalai, 35. Since the Afghan war in the 1980s, Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees over the last thirty five years, displaced by waves of conflict in Afghanistan over the years. According to UNHCR, by the end of 2001, there were 4m Afghan refugees in Pakistan — the biggest caseload of refugees in the world. Since 2002, most of them had repatriated to Afghanistan. Currently, as per UNHCR figures, approximately 1.3 million registered Afghan citizens remain in Pakistan,with distribution as follows: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (81 per cent), Punjab (10 per cent), Balochistan (7 per cent) and Sindh (1 per cent). Figures made available by the Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees (CAR) in Hayatabad Peshawar, say there are 43 refugee camps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa accommodating more than 430,000 registered refugees. An additional 400,000 registered refugees are scattered throughout the province. The number of unregistered Afghans in Pakistan is above one million. During their long stay in Pakistan, Afghans have contracted marriages with Pakistani nationals. Until recently, these families could travel between the two countries easily, crossing the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan without much hassle. However, over the past two years, deadly security incidents in Pakistan and the deteriorating political relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have led the Pakistani authorities to tighten the 2500 km long border with Afghanistan in an attempt to reduce infiltration of terrorists. On the other hand, the Afghan government refuses to recognise the Durand Line as an international border and blames Pakistan for insecurity in Afghanistan. Project Director for Repatriation at CAR, Fazal e Rabi, said that the exact number of cases of cross-border marriages is unknown. “It is hard to assess the extent of such marriages as more than 1.5 million refugees currently reside in various parts of Pakistan,” he said. According to Abdul Samad Khan, External Relations Associate at the UNHCR, registered Afghan refugees comprise approximately 130,000 families which also include Afghans married to Pakistani nationals. Khan said 59 per cent of registered refugees had been living among host communities, not refugee camps. Roghani, an Afghan national living in the Danishabad neighbourhood of Peshawar, says that his children are no longer enrolled in any educational institution because they do not have Pakistani citizenship. Now, they can only avail education if they come to Pakistan through a proper visa.”I was born in Pakistan. My father migrated to Pakistan in the 1960s even before the Russian intervention in Afghanistan. Now I have to leave for Afghanistan and take my children with me but I haven’t visited Afghanistan in my entire life.” Roghani adds that his wife is in a fix because he was raised in a developed city and cannot think of starting a life in Afghanistan after more than 20 years of marriage. Besides, he does not have any property or a source of livelihood in Afghanistan which adds to his fears about a new start back in his country. “It’s practically impossible to start my life all over again at the age of 46,” says Roghani.”My wife is almost 40. Such a drastic change at this point of life is next to impossible and hard to imagine.” Roghani hopes that a case filed in the Peshawar High Court (PHC) by Afghan and Pakistani couples, seeking legal action against forced repatriation of those that have matrimonial links across the border would deliver justice to them. In September last year, Pakistani women married to Afghan men protested in Peshawar, asking the government to stop the forced repatriation of Afghan refugees. However, in 2012, the PHC had asked the federal and provincial governments to expedite repatriation of Afghan refugees saying “that the country had already been passing through crises of different kinds and could no longer afford to provide shelter to such a large number of refugees.” Blue Veins, a non-government organisation based in Peshawar has set up a legal help desk for women at the Peshawar High Court with support from USAID.