In recent years, Pakistan has grappled with a substantial influx of Afghan refugees, a crisis that has profound economic, security, and social implications for the country. As reported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) the Afghan refugee, the number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan stands at 3.7 million, making it one of the largest refugee populations in the world.
As of June 2023, an overwhelming majority of Afghan citizens in Pakistan, amounting to 68.8%, have chosen to establish their lives in urban or semi-urban areas, seeking economic opportunities and better living conditions. The remaining 31.2% have settled across 54 diverse regions, encompassing villages and rural locales. In this demographic distribution, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa emerges as the primary host, accommodating 52.6% (equivalent to 735,800) of Pakistan’s undocumented Afghan population. Balochistan follows with 24.1% (approximately 321,677), while Punjab houses 14.3% (roughly 191,053), Sindh accommodates 5.5% (approximately 73,789), Islamabad holds 3.1% (about 41,520), and Azad Jammu and Kashmir hosts 0.3% (around 4,352).
While Pakistan has a long history of hosting Afghan refugees, the increasing numbers have raised questions about the impact on the nation’s economy, security, crime rates, and social fabric.
On the economic front, Afghan refugees have made both positive and negative contributions. Some have managed to establish businesses and become part of the local labor force, contributing to Pakistan’s economic activity. However, the sheer scale of the refugee population can strain resources, particularly in areas with a high concentration of refugees. Access to education, healthcare, and social services has become challenging in these regions. Moreover, the informal labor market has absorbed many refugees, potentially suppressing wages and contributing to underemployment among the local population.
From a security standpoint, the presence of Afghan refugees poses a complex challenge. While the majority of refugees seek safety and shelter, a small fraction may have affiliations with extremist groups or criminal elements. This creates a potential security threat, which Pakistan’s authorities must diligently monitor. Striking the right balance between humanitarian assistance and national security remains a constant challenge.
The impact of Afghan refugees on crime rates in Pakistan is a subject of debate. While some argue that a subset of Afghan refugees may be involved in criminal activities, research and statistics provide a more nuanced picture. Studies indicate that the relationship between refugees and crime is not straightforward. Factors such as poverty, unemployment, and limited access to basic services can drive certain individuals, regardless of their refugee status, towards criminal behavior.
Socially, the integration of Afghan refugees into Pakistani society has been a mixed experience. While many have formed connections with local communities and have become a part of the fabric of society, there are instances of isolation and mistrust. Language barriers, cultural differences, and limited access to education can hinder integration efforts. Furthermore, the protracted nature of the refugee crisis has meant that multiple generations of Afghans have grown up in Pakistan without a clear path to citizenship or permanent residence, exacerbating their sense of displacement.
Over the past two years, approximately 16,000 Afghans have returned to Afghanistan through the UNHCR-facilitated voluntary repatriation program.
The Afghan refugee crisis in Pakistan is a multifaceted challenge that requires a delicate balancing act. While Pakistan has shown remarkable compassion in hosting millions of Afghan refugees over the years, the strain on resources, security concerns, and social integration issues cannot be ignored. A comprehensive approach that addresses the economic, security, and social dimensions of the issue is necessary. Collaborative efforts between the Pakistani government, international organizations, and the global community are crucial to finding sustainable solutions that balance compassion with the need to safeguard Pakistan’s economic stability, security, and social harmony.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Coverpage’s editorial stance.Top of Form