Resettling Kashmiri Refugees of 1989: Embracing the Legacy of 1965, 1947 Refugees

By: Ghulamullah Kiyani

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The Kashmiri refugees of 1989, comprising a population of less than 50 thousand, have dispersed across various cities such as Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, and beyond, seeking refuge, education, and employment opportunities. While a significant number have found shelter in Muzaffarabad, Bagh, and other refugee camps, both the federal and Azad Kashmir governments are deeply committed to addressing the challenges faced by these refugees, ensuring they are not left at the mercy of circumstances.
Given that Azad Kashmir serves as the stronghold of the freedom struggle, the primary focus of the entire base camp machinery remains the liberation of the illegally occupied region by India, rather than personal luxuries like spacious offices, lavish residences, or extravagant vehicles. The journey to the base camp, after sacrificing everything for the cause of freedom, is a lengthy one. In a region that strives for the liberation of the entire state, it is only fitting to expect its rulers and policymakers to honor and respect those who have sacrificed their honor, livelihoods, lives, and fortunes.
There is often confusion surrounding the term “Kashmiri refugees” as it encompasses different groups. It’s important to distinguish between the refugees living in Pakistan and those from 1989. Separate policies are in place for both. Kashmiri refugees are displaced Kashmiris living in Pakistan since 1947, 1971, and 1965. A total of 12 seats are reserved for them in the Azad Kashmir Assembly. These people number in millions and are spread all over the country, from Rawalpindi to Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, and Gujranwala. They are divided into two categories: those from the Valley and those from Jammu. In the Azad Kashmir Assembly, there are six seats designated for each group. There is a stark difference between the refugees coming to Pakistan from India and the Kashmiri refugees.
The primary objective of the Kashmiri refugees is the liberation of their homeland. Therefore, their resettlement should be carried out in a manner that doesn’t hinder their role in the freedom movement and preserves their distinct Kashmiri identity. By ensuring this, the refugees and their future generations can actively contribute to the cause of Kashmir’s freedom, engaging in political, diplomatic, and other important endeavors.
The Kashmiri refugees of 1989 have a profound objective and have made immense sacrifices. Currently, they receive a subsistence allowance from the government of Azad Kashmir, which amounts to approximately one hundred rupees per person per day. In other words, this amount is barely sufficient to afford two cups of tea in a day. Those without any source of income are even more concerned and vulnerable. Consequently, it is crucial to allocate adequate funds in the budget to ensure that individuals can sustain themselves with two meals of dal roti (lentils and bread) and two cups of tea per day. Moreover, it is essential to address their pressing needs for education, healthcare, and housing.
The resettlement of these refugees following the pattern of the Kashmiri refugees of 1947 is the primary requirement. The Thotha Satellite Town in Jhelum Valley, funded by the Government of Kuwait, needs to be completed. With 730 plots of land, several permanent shelters have been built, accommodating families on four-marla plots. However, more space is still available. During the era of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed distributed allotment letters among some refugee of different campus. A mosque, handicraft center, and dispensary were established in Thotha. Additionally, a school, community hall, orphanage, dairy farm, and waste recycling plant were also part of the project. Therefore, the project needs to be completed at the earliest. It is difficult for large families to live in small two rooms, and there are frequent power interruptions. Thus, there is a need to activate the newly established feeder. Electricity bills of lakhs of rupees have been given to 103 families of Thotha, Mankpiyan and other migrant camps. Perhaps electricity is being stolen on a large scale and transferred to the accounts of the refugees. If the transformer or power line is damaged, donations have to be collected. Considering the sincere services, the authorities need to pay sympathetic attention to the Pakistan-style resettlement of the 1989 refugees and the solution to the basic problems.
It is crucial to treat the children, widows, and relatives of the martyrs in Occupied Kashmir with the same respect as the relatives of the martyrs in the Pakistan Army. These brave individuals served as soldiers for Pakistan without any monetary compensation. Their commitment and sacrifices, demonstrated through their bloodshed, deserve recognition. Orphans, widows, and families who have lost their sole breadwinners to martyrdom should be granted the right to live a dignified life by making necessary amendments to the existing rules and regulations, if any. There should be no differentiation between different types of martyrs. Ultimately, the authorities will be held accountable by the divine power. It is expected that both the federal and Azad Kashmir governments will demonstrate empathy and address the humanitarian concerns of the refugees. If the leaders and individuals involved in decision-making could momentarily put themselves in the shoes of these refugees’ children, rather than solely focusing on their own offspring, solutions to the problem would emerge more swiftly.
It is important to address the challenges faced by migrant children with severe mental retardation, as they struggle to compete with local students due to disparities in their living conditions and education standards. Additionally, the inadequate implementation of job quotas further hinders their employment opportunities. The refugee camps themselves suffer from various infrastructure issues, such as unreliable electricity supply, lack of clean drinking water, poor road conditions, and inadequate sewage systems. These pressing concerns must be given due consideration. To protect the rights of the 1989 refugees and prevent their exploitation in the political arena, it is recommended that the Azad Kashmir Assembly reserves at least two seats, including one for women, specifically for these refugees. This measure ensures their fair representation and safeguards them from manipulation. Recognizing their status as refugees, they deserve equal treatment and special privileges to restore their dignity and promote their well-being. In light of the current inflationary period, immediate actions are necessary. These include a reasonable increase in living allowances to address rising costs, effective implementation of job quotas across all scales, provision of free education and medical facilities, meeting the basic needs of the camps, and facilitating dignified employment. Moreover, a resettlement plan similar to those implemented in 1965 and 1947 should be promptly developed to provide a comprehensive solution.
Here are the important details of the refugees:
Since 1989, during the independence movement in Jammu and Kashmir, which is illegally occupied by India, a total of 8,023 families have migrated to Azad Kashmir due to their frustration with Indian state terrorism. Among these families, there are currently 3,172 residing in Muzaffarabad, 1,201 in Bagh district, and 844 in Kotli, living in various migrant settlements. Furthermore, 2,804 families are renting accommodations in different cities of Pakistan, including Muzaffarabad city. A considerable population of around 18,000 Kashmiri refugees from 1989 is residing in Muzaffarabad Division. The Azad Kashmir Government has designated the Rehabilitation Department to cater to the welfare of these 89 refugees. Unfortunately, thousands of refugee families are grappling with severe housing problems. Many families in slums are residing in mud houses constructed on small plots, typically ranging from “three to three families” occupying “four-four marla plots.” Additionally, a significant number of victims from Kamsar Mahajir Basti have been residing in temporary tents in the Chehla area since the earthquake. It is distressing to note that around three thousand families are compelled to reside in different cities, bearing heavy rental expenses. This situation highlights the pressing need for effective measures to address the housing crisis and improve the living conditions of the Kashmiri refugees of 1989.
The Governments of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir have implemented a resettlement plan to solve the problems faced by the refugees. Under the supervision of the Chief Secretary of Azad Kashmir, the Commissioner of the Department of Rehabilitation, along with the Senior Member Board of Revenue and other officers, are working on this initiative. For the phased resettlement of the refugees from Jammu and Kashmir in 1989, the Government of Pakistan has provided three billion ten crore rupees to the Azad Kashmir government as the first installment. The federal government is providing funds for the construction, and the government of Azad Kashmir will provide five marla land per family for building houses. This five marla land will be allocated by cutting the road and street where the house will be built. According to a 2022 assessment, a plan to build 1,413 houses from a construction firm was finalized in the first phase. However, by the time the Azad Kashmir government was able to identify the lands, due to inflation, the prices of cement and other construction materials had increased so much that the estimated cost of a house worth 22 lakhs went up to 51 lakhs.
Now, the Rehabilitation Department has made the decision to allocate five marla plots of land to each refugee family. In the first phase of implementation, a total of approximately 38 lakh rupees will be disbursed to 750 families in three installments. The Rehabilitation Department will provide the families with the allocated funds, as well as the house map which will consist of three different designs to choose from. The construction process will be closely supervised by a team of engineers. Initially, the government planned to extend this resettlement package to 450 families from Muzaffarabad, 30 families from Hattian district, 120 families from Zalbagh, and 100 families from Kotli in the first phase. As the project progresses, the government aims to gradually include all 89 refugee families under this resettlement scheme. This initiative is a step towards addressing the housing needs and improving the living conditions of the Kashmiri refugees of 1989.
The proposed resettlement project has sparked ambiguity, doubts, and suspicions among the refugees. While ownership rights were granted to some refugee camps in the past, there are still many camps that lack such rights. In order to settle thousands of refugee families, the Rehabilitation Department has acquired substantial amounts of Khalsa, Kachari, and other types of land. However, for the resettlement to be successful, certain essential amenities must be provided in hilly lands, slopes, and uneven areas. These include communication facilities, proper road and route arrangements, access to clean water, adequate sewerage systems, and other basic necessities.
In conclusion, the government should carefully consider resettling the refugees in suitable areas such as Jhelum Valley, Bihara Kahu, Mansehra, and Rawalpindi. It is crucial to provide them with basic necessities and essential facilities including well-maintained roads, streets, access to clean water, proper sewage systems, and reliable electricity supply. Furthermore, dedicated spaces should be allocated for educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and graveyards to cater to the needs of the resettled population. Granting ownership rights to families already residing in slums and issuing domicile certificates to the 1989 refugees are important steps towards ensuring their legal rights and security. Additionally, it is vital to implement a 6% job quota in government departments, enabling educated youth among the refugees to have equal opportunities for employment. Finally, granting two seats in the Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly to the refugees of 1989, with one seat specifically reserved for refugee women, would be a fair and inclusive representation of their voices and concerns. By addressing these crucial aspects, the government can contribute to the dignified resettlement and empowerment of the 1989 refugees in Azad Kashmir.
(Improvements made by Dr. Ataullah, Professor, Scientist and Editor/International Journal)
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