The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Pakistan has fulfilled its international obligations to protect Afghan refugees who have resettled there.

The plight of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and its neighboring countries rings alarm bells worldwide. Displaced from their homes due to Afghanistan’s longstanding conflicts, these refugees face bleak futures. Yet, in the face of adversity, these exiles remain brave and hopeful, resolved to build a new life for themselves and their families. As a global community, we are obligated to use all means at our disposal to aid in their resettlement.

Historically, Pakistan has been a sanctuary for Afghan refugees. The government has constructed numerous refugee facilities, providing asylum to individuals fleeing Afghanistan’s ongoing conflict. These facilities cater to basic needs like food, water, and healthcare. Additionally, Pakistani universities have expanded their educational offerings to include refugees. Despite the obstacles, Pakistan has shown open arms to those in need, being listed among the countries that accepted the highest number of Afghan refugees in 2020, around 1.5 million.

However, certain Indian and Afghan media outlets have sought to tarnish Pakistan’s reputation as a host nation, portraying Afghan refugees in Pakistan as victims of extreme suffering and discrimination. Even with its economic and security concerns, Pakistan has been home to millions of Afghan refugees for almost four decades, making such portrayals far from accurate.

Currently, Pakistan hosts approximately 3.7 million Afghan refugees making it one of the world’s largest refugee-hosting nations. Pakistan’s welcoming approach dates back to 1979 when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan spurred a significant influx of refugees. Following America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, Pakistan received over 250,000 Afghan individuals seeking asylum. Also, an unauthorized entry of roughly 50,000 individuals, mainly Hazaras, took place. Today, the Hazara population in Pakistan is estimated to be around 55,000 individuals.

To ensure refugees have access to essential resources and humanitarian aid, Pakistan constructed 54 refugee camps, primarily concentrated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Notably, most migrants, about 68%, prefer urban settings due to the better public services and acceptance levels they offer. Despite the absence of concrete evidence supporting claims of discriminatory practices, Pakistan has fulfilled its international obligations to protect Afghan refugees without discrimination.

The government has also made significant strides in developing the human capital of Afghan refugees. It offers them free enrollment in public elementary schools and scholarships for higher education. Additionally, numerous initiatives simplify the refugees’ employment process, while the government provides free healthcare services. Despite Pakistan’s non-membership in the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has shown remarkable empathy towards Afghan refugees.

The progressive approach of Pakistan is also evident in its inclusion of Afghan refugees in its COVID-19 response strategies. Many migrants contribute to the economy by operating small businesses or sending remittances to their families in Afghanistan. At the request of the Afghan government, Pakistan even released 2,350 Afghans jailed for various offenses, further enhancing cross-border mobility for purposes like medical treatment, business, tourism, and family visits.

Media narratives depicting Afghan refugees in Pakistan as facing significant hardship are often steeped in exaggeration and bias. These biased representations form part of an information war to undermine Pakistan’s image as a secure and hospitable destination. Pakistan’s unwavering commitment to Afghanistan is a testament to its role as a reliable partner, expected to continue safeguarding the nation’s security.

In particular, Afghan women and girls have overcome hurdles and pursued their dreams in Pakistan. Dr. Silsila Sherzad, a psychiatrist and trauma therapist in Quetta, and Najiba Faiz, a popular television host, and actor, serve as striking examples. Pakistan also supports refugees through skill development programs like RAHA, which helps them secure better livelihoods. Many Afghan refugees consider Pakistan their “first home” and many will undoubtedly never return home. As such, Pakistan’s compassion for Afghan refugees stands as a model for the rest of the world to follow.

Abdul Mussawer Safi is an author at various platforms such as Modern Diplomacy, Kashmir Watch, and Eurasia Review. He is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from National Defense University. He has a profound interest in world politics, especially in the regional dynamics of South Asia. His academic strengths are critical and SWOT analysis.