In Conversation With Qaiser Afridi, Spokesperson UNHCR Pakistan

Qaiser Afridi

In an exclusive interview with’s Asra Haque, Qaiser Afridi, Spokesperson of UNHCR in Pakistan explains how the UN Refugee Agency is protecting the rights of refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people during the COVID 19 pandemic.

During crises, the most vulnerable are refugees as they are not given fundamental rights that other citizens have.

There are 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan. There are 54 refugee villages in the country, which includes 43 refugee villages in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,10 refugee villages in Balochistan and just one refugee village in Mianwali Punjab.32 percent refugees are living in refugee villages across the country.68 percent of the refugees are living in urban and rural areas.81 percent of Afghan refugees live in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

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UNHCR helping refugees with their belongings

UNHCR in an exclusive interview with talks about how the organization is coordinating with government agencies to ensure that refugees, stateless people, and displaced people are not left behind in this time of crisis.

Qaiser Afridi, Spokesperson of UNHCR in Pakistan speaks to Asra Haque of

Asra Haque: How is the UNHCR coordinating with the Provincial and Federal Governments in addressing the needs of refugees, IDPs, and stateless-persons amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?

UNHCR is supporting the Government’s COVID-19 Plan (led by the NDMA and MoH) and appreciates that the Government is taking care of every individual, regardless of their nationality or status. Refugees are included in the plans and activities and have already been receiving direct support and interventions including from the Ministry of Health, SAFRON/CAR, UNHCR, and its Partners.

UNHCR welcomes Prime Minster Imran Khan’s directives to the concerned government departments to include IDPs and vulnerable refugees – that are confined to their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic – in relief assistance packages and other support schemes. UNHCR is working closely with the Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees (CAR) to assist in this part of the overall response.

UNHCR continues to advocate for the inclusion of the most vulnerable refugees in the refugee villages and urban centers into the Government’s national-level response, particularly the BISP/EHSAAS program.

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Helping refugees finding a place to live

Asra Haque: How has the UNHCR, in its capacity and by communicating with the local government and volunteer groups, responded to the plight of refugees during the lockdown?

“UNHCR is providing PPEs, medical supplies, sanitation products (such as sanitary clothes, soap, and disinfectants) and other relief items to health facilities in support of refugees and host communities in Pakistan.

The UN Refugee has provided 10 fully equipped ambulances and 28 large housing unit facilities to the provincial Health Departments and the Provincial Disaster Management Authorities in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. UNHCR has also provided large Rubb halls to support isolation facilities being established by the Balochistan Government.

Since the beginning of the crisis, UNHCR teams have been reaching out to the Afghan refugee and host communities to amplify key health and hygiene messages from the Government on COVID-19 prevention and response.

UNHCR’s NGO partners, together with SAFRON / Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees is also in the process of upgrading water and sanitation facilities in the health facilities and schools in the Refugee Villages.

Refugees continue to have access to basic health units in refugee villages where they are operational, and free of charge access to all levels of government health facilities for health care related to COVID-19 on a par with Pakistani nationals.

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UNHCR taking the role for building blocks of the country

Asra Haque: Has the decision to improve communication amongst volunteers and community mobilizers by topping-up mobile cards have any notable impact on the distribution of aid and information amongst refugees?

Last week we announced an Rs.1,000 mobile top-up for 3,000 Outreach Volunteers and community mobilizers across the country to strengthen digital communication. This support will assist in further transmitting information on COVID-19 while following the Government’s directives on social distancing.

Asra Haque: Is the UNHCR enabling women volunteers and community mobilizers within refugee camps, and in what capacity?

In refugee villages across the country, UNHCR’s health partners are playing a lead role in supporting refugee women and girls in the fight against the novel coronavirus at Mother and Child Health Centres. Women and children represent more than 70 percent of the refugee population in Pakistan. UNHCR helps ensure that they are not left behind during this global crisis.

Asra Haque: How is the UNHCR addressing the needs of refugee children?

UNHCR plans to distribute incentives to teachers in UNHCR-funded schools for April and May as an advance to help mitigate the impact of the school closures.