PESHAWAR -- Prime Minister Imran Khan's new policy of allowing Afghan refugees in Pakistan to open bank accounts is already paying dividends.
Khan on February 25 ordered banks in Pakistan to allow all registered Afghan refugees to open accounts.
"I have issued instructions today that Afghan refugees who are registered can open bank accounts, and from now onwards they can participate in the formal economy of the country," Khan tweeted at the time.
"This should have been done a long time ago," he added.
Banks across the country received instructions to accept Proof of Registration (PoR) cards issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) as identity documents for refugees. Also in February, NADRA activated its online verification system for PoR cards.
Safety and convenience
"This is an excellent opportunity for all of us, as we did not feel secure keeping money at home or in offices," said Malik Aziz, a 37-year-old fruit dealer.
Now, refugees such as himself have the opportunity to have an account in Pakistani banks and keep their money safe, he said.
"I and many of my friends used to keep money at home, which was never safe," said Habib Ullah, an Afghan trader working in the small-scale scrap business. He added he plans to open a bank account soon.
"This will help us keep our money safe and make transactions easier," he said.
Having a bank account will make it easier for Afghan refugees to receive money from abroad and for Pakistani authorities to keep an eye on the transactions. The refugees previously had to transfer those sums via shady money exchangers, who have been involved in the past in illicit activities such as terror financing.
"It will be easy for Afghans working abroad to send money to their families, especially females, through their bank accounts now," said Ahmad Shah, a 50-year-old Afghan refugee living in Hayatabad.
Weaving the diaspora together
Thousands of Afghan families in Pakistan are being supported by their young members working in the United States, the United Kingdom, other countries in Europe and elsewhere, he said.
Transactions for Afghans who live in Afghanistan and receive money from their families in Pakistan will become easier as well, according to Shah.
Many of the transactions between Pakistan and Afghanistan were going through money exchangers in Chowk Yadgar, most of whom the Federal Investigation Agency has declared illegal, he said. Several raids have targeted such dealers in recent months.
The move "will help thousands of families easily transfer and receive money through a safer channel and without going to illegal money exchangers", said Yousuf Ali, a graduate student in international relations at the University of Peshawar.
Pakistan last month extended the stay of Afghan refugees in the country until June 30, 2020, a move that the global community has welcomed, he added.
"Pakistan has provided great support to the refugees in the country for the last four decades," Ali said.