(CTN News) – In June 2023, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released startling statistics regarding the Afghan population in Pakistan. While 3.5 million Afghans reside in the country, only 1.3 million of them are registered with Pakistani authorities.
This revelation sheds light on the significant number of unregistered Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and their distribution across different regions. Furthermore, the report emphasizes the challenges faced by these Afghan refugees and the potential implications for Pakistan’s economy.
The Unregistered Afghan Population:
According to the UNHCR, Pakistan is home to approximately 775,000 unregistered Afghan citizens. These individuals lack official recognition and face numerous difficulties accessing essential services and opportunities. The majority, around 68.8%, live in urban or semi-urban areas, while the remaining 31.2% reside in various villages across the country.
As of June 2023, the unregistered Afghan population is dispersed unevenly throughout Pakistan. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa hosts the largest share, with 735,800 or 52.6% of the total illegal Afghan residents. Balochistan follows with 321,677 (24.1%), Punjab with 191,053 (14.3%), Sindh with 73,789 (5.5%), Islamabad with 41,520 (3.1%), and Azad Jammu and Kashmir with 4,352 (0.3%).
Recent Influx and Registered Refugees:
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 and the subsequent withdrawal of US and NATO forces, over 600,000 new Afghan refugees and migrants have entered Pakistan. Additionally, Pakistan already hosts 1.3 million Afghan refugees who possess Proof of Registration (PoR) Cards issued by the government, as confirmed by UNHCR spokesperson Qaiser Khan Afridi.
Over the past two years, more than 16,000 Afghans have returned to Afghanistan through the UNHCR-facilitated voluntary repatriation program. It is important to note that Afghan refugees with PoR cards are legally registered with Pakistani authorities, separating them from the unregistered population.
Extension of Registration Cards:
The Pakistani government issued a one-time Afghanistan Citizen Card (ACC) to approximately 880,000 refugees in 2017, and these cards expired this year.
UNHCR spokesperson Afridi revealed ongoing discussions with Pakistani authorities regarding the extension of registration cards. A positive outcome in these talks would alleviate the uncertainty and anxiety faced by Afghan refugees due to the expiration of their cards.
Economic Impact and Potential Crisis:
Notably, the unregistered Afghan nationals in Pakistan have made significant economic contributions, albeit informally. They have expanded businesses by introducing various foreign products into local markets and often operate without paying taxes. However, their involvement in smuggling narcotics and banned goods under the guise of transit trade raises concerns.
The data released by the UNHCR paints a complex picture of the Afghan refugee situation in Pakistan. While the country has seen a substantial influx of Afghan migrants, a significant portion remains unregistered.
The extension of registration cards is crucial for providing relief to Afghan refugees. However, the economic and social implications of this registered and unregistered population pose challenges that require attention and support.
As Pakistan’s economic growth remains sluggish, addressing the refugee crisis becomes increasingly important to prevent it from escalating into a full-fledged crisis.