Pakistan News Service

Saturday Sep 21, 2019, Muharram 21, 1441 Hijri

Afghan Refugees

18 May, 2007

By Farzana Shah

The government of Pakistan has decided to repatriate all the Afghan refugees in three years by the end of 2009.  However, looking at the political situation in Afghanistan and other problems at this side of the border it seems a task difficult to accomplish. On the other hand Iran has already started extraditing about a million Afghan refugees from her soil by force and announced to complete the entire  repatriation by March 2008. This has caused much concern to the Afghan government as it is beyond it to rehabilitate them all in the given time frame.

If compared the two host countries and the pattern of handling the refugees by each, it comes to the fore that Pakistan made many mistakes that have led to the  emergence of many problems for her. After the Soviet invasion of 1979 Pakistan had to face a great influx of the Afghan refugees as millions of them crossed over to Pakistan. They were not only welcomed with open arms on grounds of Islamic brotherhood and the Pukhtoon ethnicity but they were also not properly accounted for and documented. It was so due to their pouring in incessantly in huge numbers and the absence of proper infrastructure to keep their records. They were allowed to spread all over Pakistan with their main concentrations in the provinces of NWFP and Baluchistan. Some of them not only brought their cattle with them but also their vehicles, some as large as 16 and 18 wheelers. They took their cattle to the sprawling grazing pastures and the vehicles soon started plying all over Pakistan. Since their was no check on their movement it was quite common for most of them to have three of four Identity Cards issued from different districts of Pakistan. It was only with the introduction of the Machine Readable ID cards that some count of theirs could be made and things started looking more manageable.

In Iran it was different from the very beginning. Each refugee was issued with an ID card and registered properly. They were restricted to the camps only and proper birth and death records maintained.  They were not allowed to indulge in the business or trade. Hence she is not facing  much problems in repatriating the properly accounted for refugees as compared to Pakistan.

It was only in 2005 that the Pak government in collaboration with UNHCR started the census of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan and according to that census their number was 30,49,000 (over 3 million). About 2.6 million refugees have reportedly returned to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2005 under the UNHCR voluntary repatriation programme and from March till now over 0.8 million more had returned to their homeland. However, most of the refugees repatriated return to Pakistan either by bribing the security personnel at Pak-Afghan border or by using other points of entry at the porous border.According to the UNCHR website about 1.5 million refugees went back to Afghanistan in the 90s but 2/3rd of them came back. Keeping such a ratio of the returnees in view one can imagine the number that would have returned back by now.

Though NADRA claims to have registered most of the Afghan refugees and issued Afghan origin card to them but it is also a fact that most of those who want to go back are yet to be registered.  There is also the possibility of many of them having obtained not only fake Pakistani Computerized National Identity Cards but also fake Afghan origin cards. Just a month back while travelling from Peshawar to Mansehra an Afghan refugee onboard showed me a fake Afghan origin card, which he disclosed to have obtained from Bara. He boasted challengingly that no system could prove it to be a fake! Though voluntarily repatriating refugees under the UNHCR programme went through the iris test but all those illegal returnees until put through the same test can  not be caught, and it is not possible to put each one of them through the iris test till the scanners are installed at all such points of entry.

The number of those who daily cross over at only two crossing points of Chaman and Torkham is stated to be about 30,000. This added to the number of those crossing the porous border points could make the figure go much higher. The growth factor should also be taken into consideration, as according to the UNDP the growth index for the Afghan refugees in Pakistan is 3 per cent per annum. Such a situation is not favourable for them in Afghanistan due to security reasons coupled with scant employment opportunities. The number of Pashtuns refugees is much higher than those of Persian speaking and it is these Pashto speaking refugees who face the  economic problems more as compared to the later. Most of them are daily wages earners or have small shops. Most of them do not have the means or the  facilities for the education of their children except a few, like those engaged in the transport business or other trade related activities.  They prefer to stay in Pakistan as they can earn two-square meals a day here easily as compared to Afghanistan.

On the other hand most of the Persian-speaking refugees have some good businesses as one can notice easily the expensive boutiques on Arbab Road Peshawar run by them. Their children have also access to good English medium high class educational institutes due to their better economic condition.

Sending back such a large number of refugees who have got accustomed to better living environs as compared to the existing conditions in Afghanistan is not an easy task. Majority of the returned refugees converge on the big cities like Kabul, Kundus and Nigarhar only where they have some access to the employment, shelter and civic facilities akin to those found in of Pakistan. Another big impeding factor to their return is the security situation obtaining in Afghanistan. Conditions beyond Kabul are worse. No city alone, however big in size, can absorb the influx beyond its capacity. Hence the refugees have a scant hope of the good life there, which adds to their reluctance to go back.


The Pakistan economy especially that of NWFP and Baluchistan already over-burdened on account of these refugees demands for their early return. The present problem mostly confined to only two provinces is likely to trickle down to far-off villages and cities of Punjab and Sindh also. On the other hand the Afghan government isn’t ready to take them back as it has `already protested to Iran over forced repatriation of refugees and Afghan parliament has sacked Refugees Affairs Minister Akbar Akbar over the issue while no-confidence vote for Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta was hanging on a single spoilt ballot.

There are also fears that what if UNHCR abandoned the assistance to Pakistan just as it did in 1995-97 and it was only after 2001 that it took up the refugees task again. There are also talks of Refugees Management which means Pakistan has to handle them from own resources which is unlikely in a situation where her own citizens are without basic amenities of life.

There is yet another dimension to this issue; analysts believe that Iran is repatriating Afghan refugees forcibly to put pressure on US. It is understandable that most of these refugees in Iran would be from Persian-speaking North and US doesn’t want any Iranian influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan, too, could also face objections from US and its allied forces if she repatriated the refugees forcibly mostly the Pashto speaking as Pashtuns are considered to be resisting the NATO forces in Afghanistan. It is, therefore, time that the Government of Pakistan realized its mistakes which it made by not checking all the loop-holes and giving a free hand to the refugees for buying the properties and spreading to every nook and corner of the country. Government should not only keep proper record of these refugees, but also probe the purchase of property by them along with devising a mechanism to send them back to Afghanistan in a phased programme over the next years. It is also the responsibility of the Afghan government to take their nationals back for their betterment because the coming generation might find the livelihood while being here as refugees but may be denied proper education and health facilities as expatriates.


Reader Comments:

Afghan Refugees

The writer of the article Farzana Shah always use her pen with great care and thoughts which I do adore a lot. The question of Afghan refugees is not a problem for Pakistan and it has never been any serious. They are brothers and in the time of trouble they came to Pakistan and were received with open arms. They brought so many good things though circles think otherwise but overall they have contributed a lot towards the development of Pakistan. Look at the Transport in Karachi, look at the jobs they are doing some of them local Pakistanis would not do them. Afghanis are great people and hard working race and do deserve all the sympathy and respect. Their repatriation will not be forced and it will be voluntary I think though I am not in Pakistani government. With the GDP of Pakistani economy which is 7% at the moment and for further two decade its going to be as good as its today a labour shortage is going to be a problem for Pakistan, as its own worker do like to exit and seek jobs outside Pakistan. Children born in Pakistan of Afghan families are Pakistanis and would prefer to remain in Pakistan as its their home and place of birth and any forcefull throwing them out of Pakistan will not be on the cards and that already has been said by the government of Pakistan. What Iran is doing with Afghan refugees its upto them but the policy of Pakistan is well planned. Pakistan has a population of over 165million at the moment and with increase further but the job creation programs and mega projects in pipelines will compell Pakistan government to reconsider their plans and will use polite words and some wise steps will be taken to keep as many as in Pakistan to meet their labour needs. Afghani children are getting schooling in Pakistan, especially boys as being their tradition that girls should stay at home and may be some girls will also get good education in Pakistan and they become the backbone of the country. Country with no population will end up in crisis and Mr. Aziz is well aware of the expanding economy of Pakistan and will handle the sitution with care as he is a great man and Prime Mininster of Pakistan and I am his vote. Prolbems within Afghanistan will be settled and foreign forces will go sooner or later as the history tells us that no intruder stayed their for long and its going to be the same this time. Afghanistan do have a great future when dust settles.

mohammad, United Arab Emirates - 18 May, 2007

good miss farzana shah you have done a wonderfull job we all pakistani want that afghan,s national now must return to their country as soon as possible and i request to pakistan govt please dont allow the afghan nationals enter in pakistan without proper documents.

ZIA UL HASSAN, Pakistan - 18 May, 2007

Afghan Refugees: Humane treatment and a path to Pakistani citizenship

Afghan Refugees: Humane treatment and a path to Pakistani citizenship

Great article Ms. Shah. Thank you.

Refugee camps should be closed down as soon as possible and the Afghani refugees living there should be allowed to live among Pakistani people. The refugee camps are breeding ground for poverty and terrorism.

I think Iranian solution to forcibly repatriate Afghans is barbaric and borders the Nazi era policies of ethno-phobia. Pakistan can and should adopt a more humble and graceful approach. Only those refugees who are guilty of capital crime should be deported by force back to Afghanistan. Able bodied refugees should go back but we need to give them some funds, household items, and ration before they leave. Pakistan has enough food and household items to equip the returning refugees. This is the only way they can start their new life back in Afghanistan.

However those refugees, who were born in Pakistan and did not commit a major crime, should be put on the path to Pakistani citizenship.

Old and infirm men, and women should be made legal resident as well. The same goes for the younger Afghan women who have lost their family.

If Pakistanis are worried that refugees may not turn out to be good citizens, then we can have a trial residency of 5 years. Anyone who remains a lawful resident during that time should become naturalized citizen.

Bottom line is that Afghan refugees should be treated humanely, with dignity, and respect. Locking them up in camps or evicting them as petty criminals is amoral and unethical. Do not forget that we all have to face Allah one day.

Anyone who is in Pakistan deserves to be treated like a human being and not an animal.


Dr. Qazi (, United Kingdom - 19 May, 2007


It is good to see the writer is back after a long time.
She is right that we had to concentrate now that how to send these refugees with dignity. They are creating problems for us. We all know what happend in Balochistan few days back where these refugees opend fire at our security personnel and also blocked the roads.
It is strange that they are now expanding their muscels.
One thing the writers has forget to mention in her article that these refugees are mostly involve in crimes here.
Ms Farzana why you did not mention that rest your article is amazing as always.

Usman, Pakistan - 19 May, 2007

Excellent column over Afghanistan Refugees

Farzana Shah is young talanted journalist with wide range of approaches, She give always full grip over the issues. I admire and apriciate her words.

I know many afghan families living since 2/3 decades have fake pakistani IDs in Hazra Division.
We need remidical measures to control on fast track with fool proof system - Nadra also failed bcz Miss nadra is still child not yet matured who need lot of development in her operation.
Best of Luck and keep carry on.

Shahid Akram Abbasi
Riyadh - Saudia

Shahid Akram Abbasi, San Marino - 19 May, 2007

the most important thing the author Farzana Shah of the article has pointed that Pakistan may face some problems from US also while sending the refugees by force if it did so.
keep it up miss

Ghanni, Pakistan - 20 May, 2007

Time Factor

Analyst has brought to focus a critical issue! Dimensions of which not only concern us on security aspects but political and economical strains to the country, as well. Author raised a good point since time factor should be a major concern for Pakistan. Iran understands the security implication therefore making it the priority.

kadar khan, Pakistan - 21 May, 2007

Some one questioned in his comment that why the criminal activities of Afghans have not been mentione in the article. But i think that was not neccessary beacuse the number of those involved in criminal activities is not high and Afghans are brothers of Pakistanis and they shoul help them
Thank you Miss Shah i am Afghani i had read many articles on repatriation of Afghans where writers had pressed for their early repatriation even forced but you had not pressed for that.

Sangeen Khan, Pakistan - 21 May, 2007


Afghanis are living in Pakistan and working, some got their businesses and are there to stay only some of them will go back will come back in Pakistan again. As per recent news article that quite a few thousands were sent and they came back.If they can manage live happily why to send them back. Pakistan do need them and government is well aware of it. Pakistan is less worried about US where Afghanis are concerned. Pakistan is an ally of US and these alliances are not changed on these petty issue of Afghans. They must be given respect and hand of help by Pakistanis being brothers in a bit of distress. Only narrow minded people are against their stay in Pakistan, majority do like them and I am one of them though I am out of Pakistan but do go back often and see that they working and making their livelihood. They have brought so many good things for Pakistsan and if there are few involved in crimes its the same with local Pakistanis they are not angles. Crime rate is high there and not because of Afghan refugees. Live and let live is the best policy.

mohammad, United Arab Emirates - 21 May, 2007

All Afhghan refugees should go back to Afghanistan.

Govt. of Pakistan should avoid the US pressure. One soultion is to set the refugee camps on the Afghan side under UN supervision.

If refugees are on the Afghan soil then there will be no accusations regarding Talibans infiltrations.

Ms. Shah, I would appreciate if you could write about the Pakistani refugees in Bangladesh with same passion.

Imran Siddiqui, Canada - 22 May, 2007

To mr mohammad

To mr mohammad
mohammad sahab it may be right to some extent that they may be needed here. But it is also a fact that they are a burden on our economy. No doubt they are hard working but ot say that they like Pakistan and are loyal to us is wrong. Though we respect them and like them as hard working people but they are in no love with Pakistan.
I tell you if we ever even if we are pathans, caught by same situation as they are, the Afghans will never allow us to be refugees in Afghanistan.
They will never ever accomoate us.

Sajjad, Pakistan - 22 May, 2007

Bangladesh should treat its refugees humanely and put them on the path to citizenship

Bangladesh should treat its refugees humanely and put them on the path to citizenship

Mr. Siddiqui,

Non-Bengali refugees in BDeshi camps should be treated by their hosts in a humane way as well.

Non-Bengalis born in the BDesh should be put on path on BDeshi citizenship.

The same way all the infirm and old men and women in BDeshi camps should be allowed to stay in Bangladesh as well. Splitting families along ethnic lines is downright pathetic.

Just like the refugees in Pakistan are our responsibility, Bangladeshi should take full responsibility of all the refugees in their camps.

Both Pakistan and Bangladesh are huge countries with population in access of 150 million each. Tiny fraction of that population will not impact their respective economies in a negative way.

Both of these countries can give citizenship or permanent residency to their refugees without any impact on the demographics.


Dr. Qazi (, Pakistan - 22 May, 2007

Pakistan wil lose

Afghani people hate Pakistanis and they will hit back at Pakistan.
Only indians are real friends of Afghanis. we are providing more money for their help than you.
Ms Shah your article is not good.

Vikrant, Hungary - 22 May, 2007

Message for Vikrant, India

Afghans dont hate pakistan. They are thankful to pakistan for providing help during the afghan jihad. At that time your terrorist india was supporting russian invasion.

The srilankans all hate you indians. They say that tamil terrorists were created by Indra Gandhi and now tamil tigers are getting money, weapons and training from terrorist india.

Come to London and ask any srilankan. They all hate india.

Sikhs in London also hate india and they want their khalistan.

Rehan Iqbal, United Arab Emirates - 24 May, 2007

There is a huge differnce between refugees in BDesh and Pakistan.

Refugees in Pakistan are forigners who came to Pakistan and took 'REFUGE' from war and atrocities.

Refugees in BDesh are Pakistani citizens who are stuck in a country which used to be 'East Pakistan'.

Since 1971, refugees in BDesh have been promised a safe return to Pakistan. These prmoises have completly destroyed their future in BDesh. People didn't mingle with BDeshis firstly because of fear of prosecussion and secondly because of our empty promises.

Another issue, Pakistanis in refugee camps don't have the same ethnicity as the majority of BDeshis. These Pakistanis are Biharis. Biharis and Bangolis have never got along.

Hopes of better economic conditions in Pakistan have also kept the new generation in search of the 'dream land'.

An Afghani would have no problem accepting the citizenship of Pakistan because it is a better option, However, Pakistani in BDesh would not be in the same scenario.

Issues are different therefore solutions are aslo different.

Again, settling Afhanis on the Afghan side of the border under UN supervision will resolve a hosts of issues.

This move would also put pressure on govt of Afghanistan to achieve peace sooner then later.

BDesh refugees should be brought back to Pakistan and refugees in Pakistan should go back to Afghanistan.

Imran Siddiqui, Canada - 24 May, 2007

Anyone suggesting to kick out Non-Bengalis from BDesh should be taken to war crime tribunal

Anyone suggesting to kick out Non-Bengalis from BDesh should be taken to war crime tribunal
Mr. Siddiqui,

Please have a heart and quit throwing people out of a country just because their ethnicity or race doesn’t match with your views. It was really mischievous that you brought Bangladesh into an Afghan Refugee issue. This is just being lazy on your part to justify one ethnic cleansing by supporting another one.

If you are so concerned about Bihari-Bdeshis, why don’t you write essays in the Dhaka newspapers? It is not going to help if you continue beating down good people like Ms. Farzana Shah. She is just trying to raise awareness about issues faced by people living “in” Pakistan. Follow her example and raise your issue directly with Bangladeshi people please!

Here is a bit of education for you if you are willing to take your ethno-centric shades off of an already myopic vision.

Permanent residents of East Pakistan became Bangladeshis after the sad events of 1971.

90,000 Non-resident East Pakistanis (West Pakistani civilians and soldiers) trapped in BDesh became POWs. These prisoners were later repatriated to Pakistan.

People who were permanent residents of BDesh before 1971, or the ones born in Bangladesh after 1971 should automatically become BDeshi citizens. These citizens should never be kicked out of BDesh. Throwing non-Bengalis out will be tantamount to ethnic cleansing and total annihilation of non-Bengalis in BDesh.

Anyone trying to commit the heinous crime of ethnic cleansing should be taken to war-crime tribunal.

It is time to close down the concentration camps in BDesh that keep Non-Bengalis in isolation. Every resident and citizen of BDesh should be treated fairly regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, sex, or socio-economic background. Refugee International has documented the ill-treatment of Bangladeshis of Bihari and Burmese origin. See the link:

Let’s all make a solemn pledge. We should never let any government treat its own citizens the way Nazis treated the non-Aryan races.


Dr. Qazi (, United Kingdom - 25 May, 2007

People like to write their comments without even reading or understanding the whole issue.

What about the wishes of refugess stuck in BDesh or the Afghans in Pakistan??

They are humans and not some property or assets which can be transferred over or written off?

People in BDeshi refugee camps don't want to live in BDesh.

Please go and have a dialogue with people in BDEsh refugee camps before writing utter nonsense.

Reading or quoting one web link is not sufficient at all.

Imran Siddiqui, Canada - 30 May, 2007

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