Pakistan's prime minister vows to grant citizenship to 1.5 million refugees

Pakistan's new Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged to grant citizenship to Pakistan-born children of Afghan and Bengali refugees who have been living in the country for decades.

At a fundraiser, Khan said a lack of documentation and education for the children has prevented them from getting jobs, forcing them to turn to crime.

But CBSN contributor Alex Kliment of GZERO Media said the decision could have positive political consequences for Khan since many of the refugees are part of the Pashtun ethnic group, which largely voted for Khan's political party in the recent election.

"If he gives citizenship and passports and access to public services to a million and a half people, those people may well become loyal voters of his," Kliment said.

The military, which is very powerful in Pakistan, is opposed to the plan citing security threats. At times, Kliment said the military has also tried to use refugees as a bargaining chip in the country's tense relationship with Afghanistan's government.

"The Pakistani military knows full well if they were to unceremoniously dump 1.5 million people in Afghanistan -- a country which is already straining to keep itself together -- that could well provoke a humanitarian and even political crisis that the U.S. backed government in Kabul would be none too pleased about," Kliment said.

This comes as the U.S. plans to admit 30,000 refugees in 2019, the lowest refugee cap in U.S. history. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement Monday, calling the new figures "expansive." But Pompeo also referenced a backlog of asylum seekers, calling it a "daunting challenge." He said there are over 800,000 asylum cases pending. In 2019, the U.S. plans to process only 280,000 asylum seekers.

The refugee vetting process in the U.S. can take 24 months. With humanitarian crises worldwide, there are refugees coming from places like Syria, Yemen and Myanmar. So a lower number of refugees admitted by the U.S. could impact refugee organizations trying to keep up.

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