Imran Khan vows to grant Pakistan citizenship to Afghan refugees

Imran Khan has vowed to grant citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees born in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s new prime minister said the country’s long-running refusal to grant Afghans identification documents or citizens rights was driving them into crime and the labour black market.

The move would mark a major reversal of Pakistan’s stance, after years of insisting that the country has shouldered the burden of Afghan refugees for too long and they should go home.

More than 1.4 million Afghans are registered as refugees, with hundreds of thousands more living in the country.

They have long complained of discrimination and harassment, while a lack of national identification papers mean they can be barred from work, education and healthcare.

Mr Khan said: "Those Afghans whose children are born here and have grown up in Pakistan we will also, god willing, get (passports) for them," Khan said.

"If you are born in America you get an American passport. It happens in all countries around the world so why not here?"

Pakistan’s laws have long allowed those born in the country to apply for citizenship, but they have not been enforced for Afghan refugees.

Millions of Afghans fled Afghanistan from the 1970s onwards and many have spent decades in Pakistan.

Mr Khan said undocumented Bengali immigrants living in Pakistan, many of whom fled Bangladesh following its independence in 1971, would also be given passports.

The move was welcomed by human rights activists.

"Pakistan has been host to one of the largest refugee population in the world and granting citizenship to those eligible seems to be a logical next step both legally and morally," Saroop Ijaz, a representative for Human Rights Watch told Reuters.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency said: “We welcome the statement made by the prime minister on Afghan children born in Pakistan. We look forward to working closely with the government of Pakistan on this issue in the coming weeks.”

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