Deciphering Pakistan’s Current Afghan Refugee Policy – OpEd


The recent detention of Afghan citizens in Pakistan has stirred both international and domestic debates regarding the rights and treatment of refugees. It’s crucial to examine this issue from multiple angles to gain a comprehensive understanding of the situation.

Reports indicate that Afghan citizens in Pakistan have been detained for a range of reasons, including illegal stay, entry violations, and involvement in criminal activities. These detentions have raised questions about the treatment of Afghan refugees within Pakistan’s borders. The reasons for these detentions are multifaceted. Pakistan, like many countries, faces the challenge of regulating its borders and maintaining internal security. In this context, the detention of individuals without proper documentation or for engaging in illegal activities is not unique to Afghan citizens.

Illegal Afghan residents in Pakistan have been reported to engage in activities such as smuggling dollars, gold, narcotics, and banned goods under the guise of transit trade. This raises concerns about the impact of these activities on Pakistan’s economy and security. The involvement of some Afghan citizens in illegal activities is undoubtedly a cause for concern. It not only poses security risks but also has economic implications for Pakistan. As such, authorities have a responsibility to address these issues while ensuring that the rights of detainees are respected.

One-time Afghanistan Citizen Cards (ACC) issued by the government to approximately 880,000 refugees in 2017 have now expired. This expiration has led to concerns about the legal status of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The expiration of ACCs presents a complex issue. While it underscores the need for clarity regarding the legal status of Afghan refugees, it also highlights the challenges of managing such documentation on a large scale, especially in the context of a protracted refugee crisis. As a goodwill gesture and in response to international requests, Pakistan has released more than 2500 Afghan citizens who were detained for various charges. The process of releasing detainees is ongoing. Pakistan’s decision to release detainees is a positive step. It reflects a willingness to address the concerns raised by the international community and work towards resolving the issues surrounding Afghan refugees.

It is important to note that some media outlets, particularly Indian and like-minded Afghan media, have projected false information regarding the detainment of Afghan citizens in Pakistan. It is crucial to distinguish between fact and misinformation. The spread of false information can exacerbate tensions and hinder efforts to find constructive solutions to the challenges posed by Afghan refugees. Accurate reporting and responsible journalism are essential in addressing this complex issue. Detention and deportation of illegal immigrants is not unique to Pakistan. Countries worldwide, including the United States and India, have detained Afghan citizens for irregular entry and security concerns. Understanding that detention of individuals who enter a country illegally is a global practice helps contextualize Pakistan’s actions. However, each nation must ensure that such measures are conducted in compliance with international human rights standards.

Afghan citizens have faced detentions and deportations not only in Pakistan but also in countries like Iran and Turkey. These actions are often driven by security concerns and the need to regulate immigration. The experiences of Afghan refugees in various host countries underscore the complexity of managing refugee populations, especially in regions prone to conflict and instability.

Pakistan has a unique approach to hosting Afghan refugees. Unlike many other nations, where refugees are confined to camps or specific areas, Pakistan allows 68.8% of Afghan refugees to reside in urban or semi-urban areas. The remaining 31.2% are dispersed across 54 different regions and are permitted to engage in various forms of business. This unique approach reflects Pakistan’s historical generosity in hosting Afghan refugees. It provides refugees with greater opportunities for self-reliance and integration into local communities.  While Pakistan has been an unparalleled host to Afghan refugees, it is essential to strike a balance between compassion and security. Ensuring the security of the host nation and its citizens is a paramount concern. The challenge facing Pakistan, as well as other host nations, is to find this balance. This includes addressing security concerns, managing documentation, and cooperating with the international community to support refugees and find sustainable solutions. 

In conclusion, the detention of Afghan citizens in Pakistan is a complex issue that demands a nuanced understanding. It is important to consider the broader context, including security concerns, international precedents, and the unique approach Pakistan has taken in hosting Afghan refugees. Balancing compassion for refugees with national security is a delicate task, and Pakistan’s actions should be seen in this light. The international community must engage in constructive dialogue to address the challenges faced by Afghan refugees and their host nations.

Ali Khan Bangash

Ali Khan Bangash is a student of MPhil in International Relations at Quaid Azam University Islamabad.

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