efe-epaJaime Leon Islamabad

Two weeks after the Pakistani prime minister's call for citizenship to be granted to the children of Afghan refugees born in the country, those who have been living in Pakistan for decades were viewing the announcement with hope and skepticism after years of uncertainty and threats of repatriation.

In an Afghan refugee camp made out of mud shacks and stones where some 700 families live on the outskirts of Islamabad, Naseem Khan cannot hide his happiness at the possibility of being granted citizenship of the country where he was born 18 years ago.

"I was born here, I have never seen Afghanistan so how can I say that that is my country?," said Naseem, who mans a stall at a vegetable market.

"I am really thankful to Imran Khan," he added.

Naseem was born in Pakistan to Afghan parents who came to the country as refugees after the Afghanistan-USSR conflict, which ended in 1989.

He got married in Pakistan, and has never been to his parents' homeland, a story shared by hundreds of thousands other Afghan youngsters.

Not all refugees share his optimism; one of his neighbours, Azard Gul, told EFE he does not believe the authorities will grant them citizenship.

"If nothing happened during 40 years, why would it happen now?", he said.

Pakistan hosts 1.4 million legally registered Afghan refugees, and it is estimated that nearly another million are undocumented.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 60 percent of Afghans living in Pakistan were born there.

Pakistan's newly-elected prime minister Imran Khan announced in mid-September that his government was weighing up granting citizenship rights to Afghans born in Pakistan, as well as immigrants from Bangladesh.

"The question I am simply asking is that if we don't own them, what will happen of them? These are human beings living in your country whose basic human rights are in question and we have to take a humanitarian decision on this," Khan told the national assembly.

A sensitive topic in Pakistan, Khan said that he only wanted to initiate a debate on the matter, but his proposal was met with criticism from opposition parties.

His announcement is a radical shift from the previous government of Nawaz Sharif (Pakistan Muslim League), who gave an ultimatum to Afghan refugees to leave the country in 2015.

Khan's government has yet to extend the refugees' residence permits, which ended on Sep. 30, although Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said last week that their stay would be extended for one more year while the citizenship issue is debated.

At the central F7 market, Ishaq Ali, a member of the oft-persecuted Shia Hazara minority community who owns a popular Afghan bakery, said that his four children between the ages five and 16 years old, who were born in Pakistan know Pakistan's national anthem and not Afghanistan's.

"If they send us back (to Afghanistan) it's like sending us to death," said Ali.