KARACHI: Rights activists, experts and leaders of various refugees communities demanded that the government devise a clear policy for protect refugees from police harassment and provide them basic rights such as education and employment. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) organised a consultation session titled “The state of rights of ethnic minorities in Sindh” at a local hotel in the metropolis on Tuesday. A number of leaders representing various refugees’ communities and activists attended the consultation session and discussed the challenges refugee communities faced in Karachi.Zia Ur Rehman, a journalist and researcher covering refugees extensively, said that Karachi housed a large population of refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar who were living in dozens of informal settlements scattered across the city. “The communities do not have CNICs. They face harassment at the hands of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) and are deprived of basic rights, especially education and employment,” he explained. He also discussed the state’s policies regarding refugees that changed from time to time. “In the beginning, the Pakistani state’s policy was to regularise them but in the recent past, especially after the nine eleven mishap, the state wants to regularise and register them,” he said. He said that the newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer to give them citizenship was largely welcomed by rights groups and refugees communities but it also drew severe criticism from Sindh and Baloch political parties which feared that this would change the demographics of their provinces. Abdullah Bukhari, a leader of Afghan refugees explained that Afghan refugees began to migrate to Pakistan in 1970’s after the security situation worsened in Afghanistan. He said that the migration still continued because of the rise in terror attacks in the recent past. “The community is mainly involved in businesses. Huge population runs shops, even in posh areas of Defence and Cliftion and busiest bazzarsBoltan Markets. Also, they are working as daily wage labours, garbage picking, carpet weaving and factory workers in the city,” he shared. Informing the participants about the harassment the refugees faced at the hands of LEAs, he said that during an intensified crackdown back in 2015, hundreds of Afghan refugees, even those having proof of registration cards were arrested and forcibly deported.Bukhari said that Pakistani government should devise a better policy for Afghan refugees and provide a legal status to them. SaleemHaider, a representative of Bengali community, said that his community had been living in Pakistan for decades now but National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) had stopped issuing them identity cards. “Those Bengalis and Burmese who join political parties get CNICs easily in Pakistan,” he said.Dr TausifAhemd Khan, a senior analyst, said that it was high time for Pakistani government to devise some policy to resolve the issues of refugees by gathering all stakeholders. “The issue is political as well as humanitarian,” he asserted. Senior journalist Ghazi Salahuddin, senior academic Dr, Riaz Shaikh, Karamat Ali, director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) and Mangla Sharma, a Hindu community leader and parliamentarian also spoke at the consultation session.Published in Daily Times, October 24th 2018.