UNHCR honors Peshawar, Gaziantep with 'sister city' status for sheltering refugees

By Adeel Saeed


An Afghan labourer on July 3 dyes yarn to be used in carpet weaving in Peshawar. Hundreds of Afghans produce handmade carpets in Peshawar. [Adeel Saeed]

PESHAWAR -- The city of Peshawar is being honored as a "sister city" by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for its role in harbouring Afghan refugees who have been forced to flee the conflict in their homeland.

Peshawar, along with the Turkish city of Gaziantep, which borders Aleppo, Syria, was cited for extending "remarkable hospitality to refugees", Dinesh Shrestha, head of the UNHCR for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), said June 20.

The UNHCR acknowledges their "service to humanity, and to make them an example for the world community, both cities are declared 'sister cities'", Shrestha said.

As part of the declaration, a Memorandum of Understanding is to be signed between UNHCR and the district government of Peshawar, Shrestha said while meeting with District Nazim (Mayor) Peshawar Muhammad Asim.


An Afghan artisan weaves carpet through traditional wooden instruments in Peshawar on July 3. [Adeel Saeed]

The UNHCR appreciates the decades-long hospitality of Pakistan -- and of Peshawar in particular -- shown to millions of Afghan refugees, added Shrestha.

Welcomed with 'open arms'

"The role Peshawar played in accepting and accommodating war-affected Afghans is very laudable" and a great example "for the world community for hosting displaced persons," Dinesh said.

"Pakistan's citizens -- especially the people of [KP] and its capital city, Peshawar -- receive arriving Afghan refugees with open arms and extend warm hospitality to them," Asim said.

"We have about 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan, and the world community should acknowledge this strong gesture, where such a large number of migrants are getting equal facilities, including health, education, clean water and freedom of movement," Asim said.

Although burdened with its own challenges, Pakistan decided on June 28 to extend the stay of Afghan refugees until June 2020, he noted.

Gaziantep, an industrial city in Turkey, has hosted about 3.6 million Syrians who sought to escape the atrocities of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

"This is a very good decision because the spirit exhibited by Peshawar and Gaziantep to distressed humanity is highly praiseworthy and exceptional," said Nisar Khan, spokesperson for the Pak-Afghan People's Forum.

Such practices benefiting humanity should be applauded, encouraged and presented as an example for others to emulate, Nisar said.

A model for other countries

"Peshawar and Gaziantep are good examples" of how to harbour millions of refugees seeking to escape war and terrorism, Nisar said.

"Other countries that are receiving similar refugees due to conflict "should take a lesson from them," he added.

"In Pakistan, the residents not only provided shelter to distressed Afghan refugees, but they also shared their livelihood and resources with them by providing them the opportunity to live an honourable life," said Haji Mangal, an Afghan trader at the Board Bazaar of Peshawar.

Mangal, who arrived in Pakistan in the late 1980s as a boy, said when he left Afghanistan, he had very limited resources.

He added that he was cordially received in Pakistan -- in contrast to his expectations when first arriving.

"To me, Pakistan is like my motherland where I was born and grew up," said Muhammad Yasir, a teenaged boy who lives in Peshawar but was born in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan.

Being a boy, he has not seen the destruction and distress faced by his countrymen due to war and terrorism, he said.

Still, the decades-long hospitality extended by Pakistan to Afghans is unmatched and the gesture deserves high appreciation and highlighting for other countries whose neighbours are in trouble, said Yasir.

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