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The conundrum of Afghan refugees in Pakistan

Amid the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan, and the Taliban takeover of power in August 2021, a large number of Afghan refugees crossed the Pakistani border. Between January 2021 and February 2022, UNHCR documented 117 547 new arrivals from Afghanistan in Pakistan, with a significant peak of 35 289 persons in August 2021.

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Pakistan is located in a geo-strategic spot which presents both opportunities and challenges at a time to it. For instance, it not only works as a bridge between South Asia and West Asia but also possesses economic and geo-political importance for several major states such as China, US and Russia, etc. At the same time along with opportunities, Pakistan faces a number of challenges due to its geographic location. For example, Historical tensions with India, insecurity on the Iranian Border and Saudi-Iran strained ties are some of the major challenges in this regard.

Likewise, it shares a lengthy border with the war-suffered Afghanistan, a country that has been victimized by foreign invaders for constant four decades. The foreign invasions and ethnic conflicts within Afghanistan have triggered the issues of refugees over the years. Pakistan is one of the major hosts for these Afghanistan refugees. According to a UNHCR report, by June 2022, Pakistan still hosts more than 1.3 Million Afghanistan Refugees within its territory. Once the number of such Afghan refugees was much massive from the mentioned statistics. However, some of them have returned to their country over the year. Nevertheless, 1.3 million is still a huge number of refugees who are settled in Pakistan; impacting the socio-economic, political and law and order situations of the host country in a number of ways.

Read more: Amnesty blames Iran, Turkey of pushing back illegal Afghan refugees

How Afghan refugees are a burden on Pakistan

Generally, migrants or refugees have a positive impact on the economic situation of a country as they usually have skills and technical expertise. But in the case of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, things were witnessed oppositely; as these refugees were majorly illiterate with no technical skills. Thus, they became a serious burden on the economy of Pakistan. The implications of this are still noticed in the economic sector of the host. Similarly, some of them established well-organized businesses in Pakistan yet they don’t pay taxes which has created further complexities in the economic sector. Thus, afghan refugees are the source of economic trouble for the already struggling Pakistan economy, on both major and minor levels.

Moreover, several social and ethnic issues also came into existence after the afghan refugees’ settlement in Pakistan. For instance, Pakistani society witnessed street crimes raise, terrorism, ethnic differences, drug trafficking and Child labor, etc. Thousands of these children belong to Afghan refugees, and work 15 hours daily in various streets of Pakistan, in order to earn their livelihood. Likewise, although there are several cultural uniformities between the people of Pakistan and Afghan refugees, they possess cultural diversities in a number of aspects as well; which produce cultural complexities within the society of the host country.

Similarly, the introduction of various drugs has been noticed in Pakistan’s society in the past few decades. A few years ago, the senate standing committee on interior and drug control published a report; uncovering the fact that about seven million people are drug addicted which majority belonging to Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Both mentioned provinces are the major hosts for the afghan refugees who are majorly involved in the drug trade and other social evils. The United Nations Office on Drugs and crime also seconded the report related to Refugees’ involvement in drug trafficking.

Read more: Recognizing Pakistan’s efforts in settling the Afghan refugees

More importantly, Pakistan has suffered a lot from insurgencies, terrorism and instabilities, after welcoming Afghan refugees. The ongoing war on terror has caused severe casualties to Pakistan in the economic, social and political sectors. During this era, the country has experienced numerous attacks from various terrorist groups and insurgents. Among such attacks, a large number were either facilitated or conducted from these refugee camps and shelters. Pakistani leadership on both national and international levels endorsed the fact several times that how these refugee camps are used by various terrorist groups for activities against Pakistan. For instance, according to a report, in 2014 terrorists used one of the afghan refugee’s houses as a shelter, before the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar.

It can be concluded that several Social, economic and security complexes are directly linked with afghan refugees’ presence in Pakistan. In this regard, both governmental and non-governmental institutions need a comprehensive roadmap, in order to not only keep a close eye on Afghan refugees but make sure of timely repatriation of them as well.

 

 

The writer currently works as a Research Associate at the International Parliamentarians’ Congress Islamabad. He has wide experience in writing for various newspapers and can be reached at barkatullahbarakaat@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

 

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