Pakistan to co-convene first forum on global refugees

In this undated file photo, Afghan refugee children at a makeshift school in Sector I-12 settlement, Islamabad, Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: UNHCR)
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Updated 16 December 2019

Pakistan to co-convene first forum on global refugees

  • Geneva meeting will be the first major initiative on the topic
  • Nearly 1.4mn Afghan refugees reside in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan will travel to Geneva to co-convene the first Global Refugee Forum (GRF) which begins on December 17, 2019, the PM’s Office said in a statement released on Monday.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Switzerland are co-hosting the event. 
PM Khan, along with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and other leaders from Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and Germany, were chosen. For the initiative in recognition of the exemplary roles played by them for the protection and well-being of refugees.
“The Global Refugee Forum – the first major meeting on refugees of the 21st century – will be jointly hosted by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and the Government of Switzerland on 17-18 December 2019,” excerpts from the statement read.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will also be speaking at the forum which is expected to galvanize political support and solidarity and broaden the base of commitments from states, international organizations, private sectors, and civil society to deal with the issue.
“The prime minister will articulate Pakistan’s perspective, experience, and contribution to the Afghan refugees. Co-convening of the GRF is recognition of Pakistan’s generosity, humanitarian leadership, and compassion of the people of Pakistan toward their Afghan brothers and sisters for the past 40 years,” the statement read.
During his stay in Geneva, PM Khan will also hold talks with his counterparts and the UN leadership, in addition to attending a luncheon hosted by the UN Secretary-General. 
Around 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees reside in Pakistan.
On June 28, Pakistan decided to extend the duration of their stay until June 30, 2020.
The UN refugee agency welcomed the government’s decision, commending Pakistan for being “an exemplary host” and vowing to support the government’s policies which promote voluntary repatriation.


How Pakistani man made Sheikh Zayed’s green vision come true 

Updated 13 min 6 sec ago

How Pakistani man made Sheikh Zayed’s green vision come true 

  • Al-Yousefi joined the service of Sheikh Zayed in 1962
  • He died on Feb. 14 at the age of 83

DUBAI: A newspaper advertisement for agricultural engineers caught the eye of a young Pakistani studying in Lebanon. Little did he know that it would change his life forever.

It was 1962 and Abdul Hafeez Khan Al-Yousefi was doing his master’s studies at the American University in Beirut, when he replied to the job announcement. It turned out to be published on behalf of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates.

The 25-year-old was hired immediately and began his journey to make Sheikh Zayed’s dream come true and turn the desert city of Al Ain into a green oasis.

Abdul Hafeez Khan Al-Yousefi, center, is seen sitting with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan upon his arrival in Al Ain in 1962. (Photo Courtesy: Abdul Hafeez Khan Al-Yousefi's family)

Al-Yousefi died on Feb. 14 at the age of 83. He was buried at an old cemetery in Al Ain, just a five-minute walk from his home where he lived for 58 years.

Born in what was then British India, he migrated with his family to Karachi after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. He left Pakistan to study in Beirut.

Khalid Al-Yousefi, the second of his seven children, told Arab News his father knew Sheikh Zayed even before he became the UAE ruler and would share the stories of their closeness.

“To turn Al Ain green was the vision of Sheikh Zayed and it became my father’s passion,” he said. “He spent all his time with Sheikh Zayed to turn the desert green.”

Abdul Hafeez Al-Yousefi shows a tree Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan planted in his garden in 1962. Photo taken Feb. 2, 2019. (Photo Courtesy: Abdul Hafeez Khan Al-Yousefi's family)

In 2015, Al-Yousefi wrote a book titled “50 Years in Al Ain Oasis,” where he narrated the mission to transform the barren region of Al Ain into the Garden City it is now.

Before the Pakistani student joined the service of the future UAE ruler, British experts were trying to convince Sheikh Zayed the green endeavor was an exercise in futility, as nature would always reclaim what is hers. Al-Yousefi’s efforts proved them wrong.

The trees he planted along the roads of Al Ain and Abu Dhabi stand tall until today and protect the cities from wind and sandstorms. 

Even in his last days, the sheikh’s gardener would continue to do wonders and grow plants that normally do not survive in the desert.

“Until my father died, he was taking care of his own garden which has 500 trees,” Khalid said. Some of them are tropical mango trees, banana plants and evergreen Malabar plums.