Pakistan has been receiving a lot of flak for its treatment of the Afghan Refugees since the plight of Sharbat Gula came to the attention of the international media. While it is easy for the international media to paint Sharbat Gula as an icon of Pakistani cruelty towards its refugees, she is still, at the core of it, an undocumented refugee who has to return to her homeland as per law, however unpleasant the whole ordeal maybe for all parties involved.

While organisations such as the Human Rights Watch have been quick to condemn the treatment of Afghan refugees, the federal government has stopped provinces from taking any sort of legal action against unregistered Afghan refugees in the country, a directive that comes at a time when Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) set November 15 as the deadline for unregistered refugees to be expatriated.

The government has tried to a large extent to ensure a dignified and respectable return and it is unfair that it should be ostracised in the international media. The government has worked in consultation with UNHCR throughout the whole process of ensuring that Afghans return to their homeland and its representative in Pakistan, Indrika Ratwatte, paid tribute to the country, calling it “an exemplary host” in a recent interview.

The agency’s own data claims that some 217,000 Afghan refugees have been voluntarily sent back to Afghanistan in 2016. An average of 4,500 Afghans left Pakistan every day during September, compared to 2,400 who left during the whole of September last year. The Afghans who have decided to go home through the UNHCR’s repatriation centres, have been increasing in number. Some UN officials insist that the rush is the result of stricter border policies by Pakistan, but the fact of the matter is that a doubling of the cash grant from $200 to $400 for refugees, who agree to voluntary repatriation, has played a large role in aiding the process of a dignified return.

In September, the UN launched an emergency appeal for $152 million to help the rapidly increasing number of “people on the move”. Donors have so far committed $58 million, falling very short of the original demand. While most European countries are turning away refugees, and the US has a president-elect who seems happy to deport millions, criticising a developing country for the repatriation of Afghan citizens, when international aid and support is at a trickle, is a tad hypocritical.