Required Respite for Afghan Refugees | Muhammad Shoaib

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Afghan Refugees

Globally people make the difficult decision of leaving their homes to make life safer and better. There are various reasons and compulsions under which people migrate and become refugees. Most people are forced to migrate because of conflict, violence or to avoid torture and human rights violations. The June 20 of each year is marked as the world refugee day for the people who migrate or become refugees. It aims to create awareness regarding the ongoing refugee crisis across the globe and to help them live better lives. According to the UNHCR statistics, 82.4 million people are displaced worldwide – while 26 million people are refugees as per the UNHCR mandate. Among these displaced people other categories included internally displaced and asylum seekers.

Read: Pakistan set to welcome thousands of Afghan citizens amid US withdrawal

Pakistan has also been graciously hosting the Afghan refugees for the past many decades – which is the 2nd largest number of refugees in any country. As per the record, there are approximately 3 million refugees in Pakistan, and about half of those are registered with NADRA. UNHCR and Pakistan have been working together in accordance with the cooperation agreement of 1993 signed between the two parties. This article will discuss UNHCR and humanitarian assistance provided by Pakistan to Afghan refugees despite the economic and other limitations.

What is UNHCR?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a dedicated global organization which protects the right of refugees. It was established in 1950 and is presently working in 132 countries. UNHCR is the guardian of the UN convention 1951 and its 1967 protocol which is the principal document. In the core message for the year 2022, the UNHCR said, “every person has the right to seek safety – whoever they are, wherever they come from, and whenever they are forced to flee”. Apart from the UNHCR, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also look into the human right of migrant of all categories i.e. asylum seekers, refugees and others.

The first influx of Afghan refugees leached into Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan back in 1979. Later, after the withdrawal of the USSR, the country entered into a civil war and unrest, due to which another migrant inflow came to Pakistan. In 2001, the US-led war on terror, launched in Afghanistan, again forced the Afghan people to leave their country and withdrawal in 2021 after 20 years again pushed the region into further chaos and stability. Due to continuous instability and chaos in Afghanistan, Pakistan has been burdened by 2.6 million Afghan refugees over the past many decades.

According to the recent UNHCR report, 1.4 million refugees are registered with NADRA in Pakistan having smart identity cards. These cards help them get access to humanitarian assistance and other benefits like health, education, and above all, employment opportunities. Moreover, apart from other benefits, these smart cards provide them with the legitimate status of refugees. The registered refugees in Pakistan has the liberty to move freely, own house and start legal businesses. It is pertinent to highlight that the well-educated and affluent Afghan nationals mostly moved to the Western countries, while the middle and lower middle class only moved to Pakistan, which is already facing economic problems.

Situation after US withdrawal

After the US withdrawal in 2021, the people of Afghanistan have been pushed into chaos and uncertainty. The shortage of food and other facilities have further aggravated because of the sudden stoppage of the international humanitarian aid and assistance. The people of Afghanistan are leaving their homes and becoming refugees in search of food and security due to famine. Moreover, the freezing of Afghan funds by the US made the economic conditions further inferior and unbearable for the masses. The increased uncertainty in the country forced them to leave their country, and Pakistan is receiving the influx of refugees from Afghanistan and hosting them graciously despite facing economic problems at the present.

The world must come together for Afghan Refugees!

Pakistan’s humanitarian assistance and effort to provide support to Afghan refugees has been appreciated by international organizations like UNHCR and the food aid program. However, the aid has been significantly reduced by the international organization leaving all the burden of refugees on Pakistan.

Due to the Ukraine crisis, international community attention has been reduced from Afghanistan, which might further aggravate the already turmoil situation. The present situation in Afghanistan is getting worse and needs immediate humanitarian assistance, especially for the displaced in Afghanistan and refugees in the neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan. The Ukraine crisis is indeed of significant importance for the world power. But the situation in Afghanistan also needs the due attention of international organizations, and regional and extra-regional powers have to play a significant role in the rehabilitation of Afghan refugees along with Pakistan.


The author holds an M.Phil from National Defence University. He is a freelance writer and can be reached at [email protected].