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Afghan refugees allowed to open bank accounts

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ISLAMABAD: Months after the controversy over a proposal to grant citizenship to Afghan refugees, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday directed relevant authorities to allow the registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan to open and maintain bank accounts in the country.

“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. This should have been done a long time ago,” Mr Khan tweeted after reviewing progress made by government departments to curb money laundering.

While millions of Afghan refugees have been living in Pakistan for decades, they have been allowed to open bank accounts for the first time.

The move came months after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement about granting Pakistani citizenship to the children of Afghan refugees had stirred a controversy. As the opposition parties protested against it, he had to provide an explanation that the government would consult all political parties on it before taking a final decision.

Imran says menace of money laundering caused irreparable loss to economy

Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting states in the world, by giving shelter to over 3.5 million Afghans who had fled Afghanistan since Soviet invasion in 1979. Still there are said to be around 2.4 million of Afghan refugees living in the country after repatriation of a large number of refugees in different times and phases under UN arrangement.

Take a look: Unwanted Afghan refugees pin hopes on PM Imran Khan’s promise for citizenship

A month after assuming office, the prime minister during his visit to Karachi had announced, “These people, who are originally from Bangladesh and Afghanistan, do not get passports or ID cards. [As a result], they do not get jobs. This is a deprived class in Karachi that goes towards crime as it has no other option,” he had stated, while vowing to recognise the neglected class as “citizens of Pakistan”.

“Every child who is born in a country has the right to citizenship,” Mr Khan had declared, giving examples of the US and other western countries.

“This law is present all over the world and is a matter of human sympathy. Bengali refugees have been living in Pakistan for a long time. We can neither throw them out of the country nor are they citizens. If they do not get registered, they will be disappointed,” the premier had said.

Money laundering

Meanwhile, the prime minister was briefed by officials of different departments about the progress made to curb money laundering. The PM was also apprised of the ongoing work to facilitate opening of bank accounts by the Afghan nationals on the basis of their identity cards issued by National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra).

Finance Minister Asad Umar, PM’s special assistant Shahzad Akbar, heads of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and interior secretary attended the meeting held under the chairmanship of the prime minister.

Know more: How Pakistan’s ‘penniless billionaires’ are exposing a money laundering frenzy

The SBP governor, giving a detailed briefing on steps taken by commercial banks to prevent money laundering, said on the charges of fake accounts, a total fine of Rs247 million was imposed on six officials while inquiry was being initiated against 109 bank officials.

The meeting was informed that Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) of the SBP was being strengthened and its coordination with other departments was being improved to timely detect and prevent suspicious bank transactions. It was said 8,707 suspicious bank transactions were detected last year while 5,548 suspicious bank transactions had been found in 2017.

Mr Khan was told that Memorandums of Understanding were being signed with the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Qatar and Australia for sharing of information about money laundering.

A customs official informed the meeting that currency and goods worth Rs439 million were confiscated during the current year, whereas items worth Rs131 million had been seized during the same period last year.

The prime minister was briefed that the customs department had confiscated over Rs20 billion currency over the past one year, whereas Rs12 billion had been recovered in 2017.

The FBR officials said a total of 335 suspicious transactions were detected in three years from 2016 to 2019 and over 500 cases were investigated and a sum of Rs6.6 billion was recovered. Similarly, foreign currency worth Rs305 million was seized, 11 cases were made and 11 persons were arrested over the past four months.

The prime minister was also informed that as a result of incentives offered to overseas Pakistanis, foreign remittances had increased by 12.5 per cent.

A separate briefing was given by the interior secretary on steps taken at the borders to check money laundering.

Mr Khan said the menace of money laundering had caused irreparable loss to the economy. “People involved in money laundering do not deserve any concession and they must be exposed before the nation,” he added.