Pakistan's Treatment Of Afghan Refugees Is Anything But Friendly

Pakistan's Treatment Of Afghan Refugees Is Anything But Friendly
After the takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban on the 15th of August, 2021, thousands of Afghans continue to leave the country. Pakistan shares a long and a porous border with Afghanistan and has been home to millions of Afghan refugees since the 1980s, making it host of one of the largest refugee populations in the world. Since the recent turn of events in Afghanistan, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at one point claimed that they expected around 500,000 refugees in the region as a “worst-case scenario”.

To deal with the influx of refugees from Afghanistan, the government of Pakistan announced certain measures in order to manage the situation. Federal Minister for Interior Sheikh Rashid declared that the Chaman and Torkham borders (the two major crossing points between Afghanistan and Pakistan) were open and that Pakistan would issue 21-day transit visas to Afghans. The government of Pakistan also announced plans of housing Afghan refugees in certain cities at certain designated locations and shared estimated numbers of refugees they expected to accommodate in these locations.

Despite these claims by the government, there has been no clarity about the policy towards Afghan refugees. Pakistan has not acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. There are no laws in Pakistan for refugees, which means there are no protections in place for them, adding to their vulnerabilities.

Civil society organisations and individuals who have been wanting to help Afghan refugees have found it difficult to get information from government authorities. Information pertaining to procedures and processes that refugees must follow are hard to ascertain, since there is no focal authority which whom to connect. While Afghan refugees are required to register themselves after entering Pakistan, there are no mechanisms in place to guide them through the required procedures. Refugees are treated on an ad-hoc basis with not much information available in the public domain about the policies being employed or the decisions being made about how the government plans on continuing to deal with them.

Given the the fallout of the situation in Afghanistan on Pakistan, it is a matter of concern that as of right now, there have been no debates or discussions about Afghanistan in the Parliament. Debates in the Parliament not only inform the policies of the government but also provide clarity to citizens about the directions the state chooses to take with regards to issues that impact them directly, such as a major upheaval in a neighbouring country.

Certain regions within Pakistan have been impacted far more than others due to higher concentration of refugee populations, yet the elected representatives of these regions have not been able to hold any discussions about the issues of refugees in the Parliament.


While Afghan refugees are required to register themselves after entering Pakistan, there are no mechanisms in place to guide them through the required procedures.


The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs monitor the border crossings. The concerned ministries have not shared any data or information about the numbers of refugees who have crossed over since the 15th of August. There is also no clarity about the condition that these refugees are in or the kind of assistance they might require. There have been reports of Afghans crossing back into Afghanistan as well. Reports from Torkham and Chaman suggest that Afghans who return to their country face issues from the authorities at the border and are forced to pay bribes to be allowed to cross. Such exploitation is not new. Unfortunately, this has been the norm for years now, with each successive government in Pakistan having failed to stop this from happening.

One of the major problems that Afghans face in Pakistan is the inability to apply for citizenship. The Pakistan Citizenship Act (the law that governs the grant of citizenship) allows those born in Pakistan to claim citizenship. Millions of Afghans who have been born in Pakistan since the 1980s are kept deprived of availing citizenship without any explicit bars on their right to do so by the state. There are no exceptions in the citizenship law barring Afghans from becoming citizens, but in most cases of Afghans wanting to apply are discouraged by the relevant authorities and are denied this right. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan families, living in Pakistan for the last three to four decades, continue to be stuck in a state of limbo with no certainty about their futures.

In addition, Afghans face many biases against them which unfortunately appear to have become an inherent part of the ways in which they are viewed and treated as a people. They are not only mistreated and looked down upon because of their Afghan identity, they are also treated as potential suspects after certain crimes take place and more specifically after terrorist attacks. Authorities find it easier to arrest and detain Afghans because they are not protected by any laws and because they are more vulnerable to excesses of law enforcement agencies in such instances.

Afghanistan is undergoing a humanitarian crisis that continues to unfold at scales larger than any other in the region in decades. It is important for us to assist the Afghans during these times and to be there for them. It is imperative that Pakistan accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and formulate laws for refugees. Afghan refugees deserve to be treated like humans with rights, with respect, and their fundamental human rights need to be protected.

The writer is a member of the National Democratic Movement (NDM).