Srinagar: Both Union and state governments have announced and implemented several measures for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandit migrants and refugees from West Pakistan since 1990, but no government has worked to bring back and rehabilitate thousands of border residents who took refuge in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK) in the early ‘90s.
Thousands of residents in villages along the Line of Control had migrated to Pakistan in the wake of the armed insurgency. Most of them reportedly fled harassment and rights abuses by security forces.
According to National Conference MLA from Uri, Mohammad Shafi Uri, an estimated 5000 people from his constituency alone are living as refugees in PaK. He said about 80% of the population of a village named Sahoora had migrated across the border. There are several such abandoned villages across the 750-km.
“Such people are state subjects. They want to come back,” Shafi told Kashmir Reader.
Asked why his party didn’t frame a policy for their return despite remaining in power for 12 years since 1996, he said former chief minister Omar Abdullah “did talk about a rehabilitation plan”.
“It is up to India and Pakistan to decide on their return. Who doesn’t want to return home? Governments of both the countries should allow them to return after verifying their credentials. Some families returned in 1996 in a village after scrutiny,” said Shafi.
The People’s Democratic Party also did nothing for the return of these refugees during its earlier stint in power, neither does it make any mention of the issue in its recent election manifesto.
“It’s on our agenda. The people who have gone across are welcome to come back as they are the state subjects. They have their families and properties here. They were forced by the tense situation to flee their homes in border areas,” PDP media advisor Nayeema Mehjoor told Kashmir Reader. She said PDP can facilitate their return.
Persecuted, driven out and forgotten
- A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report in 2005 said that according to Azad Kashmir Rehabilitation Department there are 29,932 registered refugees who crossed over from J&K into Pakistan administered Kashmir in 1989-91, besides a couple of thousand militants who settled there.
- There were 2720 and 1508 refugees (2005 figures) respectively in two of the largest camps—Manakpayan and Ambore alone. Most of them had been forced to flee from border areas of Baramulla, Kupwara, Uri, Karnah and Poonch.
- The HRW said the refugees were fleeing “heightened conflict in Jammu and Kashmir state and serious human rights abuses by Indian security forces”.
- These refugees could not travel to their own homes in the Valley on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus that was started on April 7, 2005. Expecting the bus was the beginning of a process of their return, Jammu Kashmir United Haqiqi Movement, an organisation of refugees and former militants, had prepared a grand welcome for the bus, but the local police foiled their march.
- Media reports said the regular monetary assistance provided by the governments of Pakistan and PaK is very insufficient for the dispossessed families. Assistance from a few NGOs is also limited.
- Many refugees have been critical of Pakistan’s policies and demanded that they should be handed over to the care of International Committee of the Red Cross or The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.