250,000 Afghan children need education, food and homes after returning from Pakistan, says NGO

This is a locator map for Afghanistan with its capital, Kabul. (AP Photo)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A quarter of a million Afghan children need education, food and homes after being forcibly returned from Pakistan, a nongovernmental organization said Thursday.

Pakistan is cracking down on foreigners it alleges are in the country illegally, including 1.7 million Afghans. It insists the campaign is not directed against Afghans specifically, but they make up most of the foreigners in the country.

More than 520,000 Afghans have left Pakistan since last October.

Save the Children said families are entering Afghanistan with “virtually nothing” and that nearly half of all returnees are children.

A survey of families by the NGO said nearly all of them lacked enough food for the next one to two months. Some returnees and host families had to borrow money for food or rely on friends and relatives for food.

Almost two thirds of children who have returned to Afghanistan have not been enrolled in school, according to Save the Children. The majority told the organization they don’t have the necessary documents to register and enroll in school. In Pakistan, more than two-thirds of these children had been attending school, it said.

An additional obstacle facing child returnees is the ban on girls attending school beyond sixth grade in Afghanistan.

Arshad Malik, Save the Children country director for Afghanistan, said the return of so many people was creating an additional strain on already overstretched resources.

“Many undocumented Afghan children were born in Pakistan,” he said. “Afghanistan is not the place they call home. In addition to the returns from Pakistan, 600,000 Afghans arrived from Iran last year.”

A spokesman for the Refugee Ministry, Abdul Mutalib Haqqani, said education was available for any child who was missing out on classes.

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

Pakistan’s decision to deport Afghans who entered illegally struck hard. Many Afghans have lived for decades in Pakistan, driven there by successive wars at home.

When the order was announced, hundreds of thousands feared arrest and fled back to Afghanistan.