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Relief For PoK Refugees

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The Government’s decision to approve a package of Rs2,000 crore for the development of refugees from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is commendable. This fund will come as an immediate relief to more than 36,384 families of in the form of financial aid. It is heartening that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs will oversee the entire programme so as to ensure that the displaced people, mainly residents of Jammu, Kathua and Rajouri region, get their due. However, the Jammu & Kashmir Sharanarthi Action Committee (JKSAC), an organisation representing the displaced people of PoK, said the package should not be seen as a final settlement to address current needs. It also asserted that a total outlay of Rs9,200 crore is required to resettle the refugees living in these areas. The Government has not yet made it clear if this fund will be made available for PoK refugees who are staying outside Jammu & Kashmir.

The demand made by refugees was long overdue and successive Governments at the Centre had been dilly-dallying the same without giving a serious thought to re-settlement issues. Finally, the NDA Government has taken the bold step. However, it must see to it that the concessions promised to the refugees reaches them on time. For long, these people, who migrated from west Pakistan, mostly from PoK, have been living in Jammu & Kashmir, but have not been allowed to exercise their voting rights in local elections. Ironically, they were allowed to vote for the Lok Sabha poll. Sadly, they were not included in the decision-making process in the Assembly election of the State. The question here is: Why were they denied their rights? Since the Government of India recognises PoK region as an integral part of India, the people, who migrated from that region, should have been treated as normal citizens of the country. They should have been made permanent residents of the State. Accordingly, they should have been allowed to be fully integrated into the entire political system of the State.

The current scheme, released by the Union Government for PoK refugees, includes concessions in special recruitment drives for induction into paramilitary forces, equal employment opportunities in the State, admission for children of the refugees in Kendriya Vidyalayas etc. At a time when the Government has taken the first step to offer relief to PoK refugees, many have argued that it should also make some policy guidelines for settling the Internally Displaced People (IDP). Till date, India has neither signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention nor its 1967 protocol. Therefore, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees does not have access to the real status of the IDPs in the country. While the recent move is welcome, the Government, while considering the resettlement of PoK refugees, must take a progressive step by making an assessment of the IDPs and accordingly act in the best possible manner.

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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