With a tenfold increase in migration levels across the world, the issue of displaced individuals and refugees will continue to remain a much relevant topic that demands not only sequential rigorous discourse but the proposal of and implementation of viable solutions by different states. With the displacement of more than 80 million people across the globe due to persecution, violence, conflict, grave human right violations, the world faces an extraordinary extent of the refugee crisis which potentially amounts to the greatest human catastrophe witnessed. There are considerable challenges in terms of opportunities and barriers pertaining to the presence of refugees across Europe and Asia. Apart from implications such as humanitarian and security issues that host countries face, there is also a significant economic impact of hosting nearly three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The majority of publications have revolved around the plight of refugees, highlighting their struggles, challenges, uprooting of their lives and the implications of being displaced, what this paper seeks to uncover are the challenges faced by the host countries, particularly Pakistan under the lens of security, stunted economic growth, transnational crime and diplomacy, issues that have not attracted rightly deserved attention. Whilst empathizing with the refugees who were forced to flee their homes in search of safety and security, it is pertinent to highlight the struggles of a developing host nation which is marred by its very own domestic challenges and internal issues.
It is interesting to observe that politics and media focus on mass migration and refugee crisis particularly in Europe when in reality it is the Global South, the third world developing countries who have accepted and provided relief to 86% of the world refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate. Countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey, Columbia, Uganda and Pakistan have hosted refugees for decades. A developing country itself, with approximately 208.57 million population4, Pakistan has provided relief to a further 3 million Afghan refugees which, as some figures quote increased to 4.5 million by 1990, and in turn has faced an enormous economic burden despite international assistance. The Cold War of the former Soviet Union forced millions of Afghans to flee from Afghanistan and has significantly overflowed a large influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan. This is not only a result of the 1979 Soviet invasion but also due to the US/NATO-led invasion in 2001, particularly after 9/11 attacks. Due to the uprooting of lives of Afghans in Afghanistan, attributable to one deadly war after another, Afghans have continued to be displaced and today are actively avoiding a return to their war-torn land in midst of increasing social hardships. Among the Afghan refugees seeking asylum in Pakistan, 60% of them initially fled with no assets/capital, no investments, no cattle and no professional skill sets. These Afghan refugees were and are completely dependent on Pakistan and international efforts for their sustenance and continued survival.
Pakistan, a developing nation struggling to build its own economy, combating mass poverty, political turmoil, violence at home, devastating terrorism and conflicts, has demonstrated its tremendous generosity and continues to shoulder a significant portion of the refugee burden since 1979. Mr. António Guterres, the United Nation Secretary-General stated at the International Conference of Hosting Afghan Refugees for 40 years, Islamabad 2020, “Pakistan has provided the world with a global public good supporting Afghan refugees and it’s time for the international community to assume its responsibilities, and to support Pakistan very meaningfully.” With its own prolonged periods of severe socio-economic, political and environmental instability, which often has been attributed to the influx of Afghan refugees, has turned for the worse particularly during the pandemic of COVID 19. In line with the earlier policies of Pakistan, Afghan refugees settled primarily in rural areas with the highest concentration in the provinces of Kyber Pakhtunkhwa (62%) and Balochistan (20%) due to shared borders and familiarity of culture and language. The exact number of refugees (registered and unregistered) who have entered Pakistan through the land border is impossible to determine and efforts to do the same have been vanquished due to the 2,430 km shared rocky border with Afghanistan. Furthermore, a majority of the Pak-Afghan border continues to be unregulated and unmonitored, it allows further influx of refugees entering the country through rocky terrain with no means of determining the actual number. Due to this very reason, Pakistan has been one of the most vulnerable countries to mass migration, drug trafficking, militants’ movements and arms smuggling from Afghanistan.
In contrast with the usual policies and regulations pertaining to refugees worldwide, Afghan refugees after settling into rural areas gradually flowed to urban districts in search of employment which may sound natural but realistically has aggravated the economic crisis at home thus contributing significantly to informal economies and stunted economic growth of Pakistan. With refugees moving into densely populated areas where demand for essential food, housing, education, health provisions, basic infrastructure, sanitation facility, water availability, is already high, their presence in these areas hikes up the prices for the most basic commodities. In certain cases, it even impacts natural resources such as grazing and firewood and gas (UNHCR 1997). Furthermore, as refugees generally come from low economic backgrounds, with bare minimum education and/or skills evidenced by the fact that in the last 4 decades, 60% of the Afghan refugees entering Pakistan did not have any investments, funds, assets, capital or professional qualifications, these refugees have expanded the supply of labour for unskilled occupations eventually decreasing the wage levels and contributing to massive unemployment (Hunt 1995). As Rother et al (2016) very aptly highlighted, the refugee crisis naturally leads to the process of urbanization which in turn shifts the population demographics of any host nation which is not necessarily always a beneficial change for the country and is definitely not a good one for Pakistan.
An increasing number of refugees can negatively impact any country, more so a developing one which is already combatting a range of issues. Due to the high influx of refugees coupled with the ongoing pandemic, Pakistan has been facing threats to its economic confidence, national security, institutional arrangements, declining social cohesion and its ability to and capacity to bring about reforms for the past 4 decades. Pakistan, to date has not passed any national legislation on the status/treatment of refugees nor established procedures to determine the refugee status of persons who are seeking international protection within its territory. Furthermore, Pakistan is also not a party to the 1951 Convention on Status of Refugees. Afghan refugees in Pakistan are therefore treated in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and it is the UNCHR that conducts refugee status determination under its mandate in accordance with the 1993 agreement between the Government of Pakistan and UNHCR. This agreement allows the UN greater discretion in determining refugee status and usually allows asylum seekers to live and work in Pakistan till a viable solution is reached.
Additionally, the large influx of refugees has also undermined the quality of institutions whether the United Nations or the Government of Pakistan and their ability to undertake highly needed economic reform and security precautions. As the number of refugees continues to grow in Pakistan, along with Pakistan’s own ever-increasing population and limited resources in terms of land, food, clothing, shelter, health care, the Government and United Nations are close to exhausting its resources to feed the refugees when 60% of Pakistan’s own population is food insecure (World Food Programme 2018). The threat to the national security of Pakistan from not only Afghanistan but the refugees itself is thought to be a real one due to the increase in the terrorist activities springing from areas in close proximity of the Pak-Afghan border. It is also believed that one of the deadliest attacks in the history of Pakistan on Army Public School, Peshawar 2014 where nearly 150 people were killed out of which 134 were school students, was planned in Afghanistan with 2 of the militants holding Afghan nationality. The TTP in Afghanistan had also claimed responsibility for the attack. These horrifying events, threats to young school children, threat to the national security of a nation that has warmly welcomed Afghan refugees are forced to question itself on its refugee policies as access into Pakistan of militants is believed to be facilitated by the refugees. 
Furthermore, the influx of refugees has also increased sectarian violence, drug trafficking, human trafficking, organized crime and series of other criminal enterprises within Pakistan. With reference to smuggling, Afghanistan has been the worlds’ leading opium and heroin producer since 2001 and due to its shared border with Pakistan and access inside Pakistan through refugees, provides a major transit point for the trafficking of opiates along the southern route. The over 2,400 km border shared with Afghanistan forces Pakistan to bear the brunt of the large scale heroin trafficking on the southern route. Apart from narcotics, automobiles, electronics, lumber and various other taxable items are smuggled into the country by Afghan refugees/nationals thus significantly causing losses for the Pakistan tax and customs authorities who are unable to trace the smuggled goods due to lack of declaration and registration thus contributing to a revenue loss of more than Rs. 3.5 billion on mere automobiles.
In addition to drug smuggling, terrorism has been on the rise in Pakistan particularly after the influx of Afghan refugees into the country. As per the Pakistan Economic Survey 2014-2015 Annex IV, “The conflict and instability in Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks and their regional implications had very negative repercussions, for the years following the US invasion of Afghanistan not only saw a huge influx of Afghan refugees across the border into Pakistan but also witnessed a sudden spike in the frequency and scale of terrorist attacks in Pakistan.” The survey also confirms that the cumulative impact of these events has adversely impacted economic growth in every sector of Pakistan, affecting export productions, loss of men and precious resources in responding to security threats but mainly loss of life due to indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population of Pakistan including mosques, schools, embassies and others.
Regardless of these massive challenges, Pakistan continues to host millions of Afghan refugees on it’s soil without having any obligation to do so. It continues to provide basic facilities such as essential food, water, housing facilities, access to health care, education, among others. As of May 2021, Pakistan resumed its operations of providing “Proof of Registration” document to Afghan refugees which had initially commenced in February 2007. The POR acts as a biometric identity smart cards for Afghan Refugees which is similar to a NIC issued for a Pakistani national. This initiative is a part of UNHCR and the Government of Pakistan’s DRIVE Programme which has been created to strengthen the protection of refugees and better understand the needs of the community. Furthermore, the DRIVE project encourages other Afghan refugees to come forward and register themselves in order to receive their PORs. This is turn will allow them to access better education, health care, open up bank accounts (allowed in 2019), receive COVID -19 vaccines, among others. As per May 2021, 10 documented Afghan refugees have also received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccines.
Additionally, the Pakistan government in line with UNHCR has launched various projects aimed at improving the lives of Afghan refugees in the country. Projects such as Refugee Management Support Programme (RMSP), has addressed water scarcity in Balochistan, rehabilitated a school in Quetta for special needs children, fostered social cohesion and tolerance in Afghan youth through implementation of music, sport and art activities and most importantly piloted the DAFI project through which 125 scholarship graduates received on-the-job-training in different organizations. Other projects such as Solution Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR), Refugee Affected and Housing Areas (RAHA) projects were initiated as a response to the political, socio-economic, financial and environmental consequences of hosting Afghan refugees by serving as a principal responsibility-sharing platform for maintaining temporary protection space, mitigating the impact of the protracted refugee presence, promoting social cohesion and enhancing the community acceptance of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Since its inception, the RAHA Programme implemented approximately 4,260 projects worth USD 220 million benefiting around 12.4 million individuals, out of which 15% are Afghan refugees. These RAHA projects prioritize five main sectors of interventions: education, health, livelihoods, water and infrastructure.
Pakistan has not only provided relief and facilities to Afghan refugees to ease their transition from a life of hardship to a new and better life but has also created programmes of voluntary repatriation back to Afghanistan in collaboration with UNHCR. The repatriation project commenced in 2002 with more than 1.2 million Afghan refugees returning back to Afghanistan from Pakistan were facilitated by the UNHCR who termed the numbers as, “staggering”. The UNHCR had to redirect its priorities to provide protection, assistance, returnee packages, among others. However, since 2002, the number has significantly reduced reaching an all-time low in 2021 with only 354 Afghan refugees choosing to voluntarily repatriate back to Afghanistan despite UN providing monetary incentives to refugees to repatriate. The astonishing decrease in number is due to various factors such as temporary suspension of the programme but most importantly due to the ongoing pandemic which has caused grave uncertainty and fear of what lies ahead for the refugees upon their return to Afghanistan. Furthermore, US President, Biden’s recent policy of withdrawing remaining US troops from Afghanistan by September 2021 has been largely criticized as this could lead to another potentially catastrophic ramification: a mass exodus of fleeing Afghans again sparking a migration/refugee crisis. This is believed to occur as, without the US troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban may believe they have the upper hand and will have no incentive to negotiate with the Afghanistan Government. At this point, it is crucial to comment on the creation of ISIS in Iraq, three years after the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq under the Obama administration, thus proving a not-so-subtle trend of the bodies left by US in war-torn countries through their withdrawal policies.
Further recent events, such as the extreme droughts and drastic reduction of rain has caused scarcity of food and water across 25 provinces of Afghanistan which once again can trigger mass movement leading to migration/settlement in neighbouring countries. The threat of drought comes at a time of fresh instability in the country with increased attacks and gender-based violence. What is unfortunate is that Afghanistan is still reeling from the effects of COVID 19 and the drought creates a fresh trauma for the people of Afghanistan. 
The Afghan refugee crisis has deeply affected Pakistan and theoretically has created both: positive and negative economic effects. The adverse effects have been explained in detail above but it is equally important to comment on the positive implications of mass migration. Generally, mass migration may create a positive impact through the contributions of refugees to agricultural production, providing cheap labour and increasing production overall. While these may be attractive factors for developed nations where cheap labour is impossible to find, Pakistan itself has a very high number of farmers/labourers working in the agricultural sector below minimum wage, so if anything, the influx of refugees willing to provide cheap labour would lead to increased unemployment. However, if looked closely, whilst refugees may be a burden on the host nation, they also do attract international humanitarian aid, human capital and economic assistance from organisations such as the United Nations, European Union and others. As of February 2020, the EU donated € 21 million to the UNHCR particularly for Afghan refugees and host communities, a significant portion of which has been donated to Pakistan.
In order to limit the growing number of refugees coming into Pakistan and to make voluntary repatriation of refugees back to Afghanistan a success, Pakistan should clearly state its policies and laws on refugees and in particular Afghan repatriation. In the absence of any national legislation governing the laws and regulating refugees, Pakistan is dependent upon the UNHCR’s policies and frameworks of identifying and accepting refugees entering into Pakistan. Whilst UNHCR is in favour of voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees despite criticism received from Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), Pakistan still requires a clear law/legislation on refugees that would dictate the procedures and SOPs of accepting refugees within the country. If such legislation is created, it will allow future refugees to understand the policies of Pakistan before entering the country as refugees. Additionally, appropriate screening methods of refugees should be implemented with a more defined role on part of the Government when deciding which refugees qualify for asylum and which do not. Those who are screened out should have proper facilities where further steps can be taken by the Government in consultation with the UNHCR as opposed to directly deporting them back to Afghanistan. With reference to encouraging illegal residents to come forward and register themselves for PORs, the government should provide further incentives apart from COVID vaccines and bank accounts to attract them to register. These could be better access to health care upon registration or chances/scholarships of attending schools or universities. Spreading awareness within the refugee communities about their rights and opportunities that the Government has created for them should be made via media more frequently and should be mandatory to ensure that benefits of registration are communicated effectively. Furthermore, media should play a proactive role in highlighting the problems faced by refugees with members of the public as that will help in creating an opinion for policy-making and allow the public to empathise with the challenges and hardships faced by the refugees.
Likewise, the Afghan Government should also make repatriation an attractive option for Afghan refugees across the world. With the economy of Afghanistan having significantly improved in recent years, the Government should take steps to reintegrate their displaced population by creating policies which will allow for repatriation to be durable and sustainable. The Government having received billions in international funding, the establishment of new legal trade routes, return of wealthy expats, modernized agriculture sector should not work on improving the standard of living for existing Afghan residents but should also remember the 3 million Afghan refugees that are still living in Pakistan. The Government should focus on rebuilding the economy, increasing health/education facilities, should improve security, and provide financial, economical incentives to the refugees for a safe and dignified return with the hope and promise of rebuilding their lives in a stable environment. The Government through various policies such as tax relief etc can attract individuals who have attained professional skills abroad to return home to benefit from their skills and expertise by providing them safe and secure employment. The Government can also provide agricultural land free of cost/low priced to encourage migrants to return and rebuild the now modernized sector. Similarly, programmes which will provide mental and emotional support to allow migrants to ease back into their country of origin should be set up by the Government. It will be the sectoral policies of the Afghan Government that will influence not only attracting refugees back home but also easing their reintegration into society and ensuring the sustainability of their return. 
Refugees should be reminded that being a refugee is not a permanent phenomenon. With Pakistan not in the practice of providing citizenship to refugees or their children, the refugees should be reminded they will be expected to repatriate once conditions in their country return to normalcy. Once a degree of stability has been achieved, threat dispersed, and basic infrastructure been rebuilt, refugees can choose to return under the voluntary repatriation programme. However, it is recognized that in certain scenarios the issues become too prolonged and a complete return does not appear to be possible due to the ongoing conditions of the home country. In a similar fashion, Afghan refugees have made Pakistan their home. They have married in the country, they work full time in the country, they have had children in the country, children that have never seen Afghanistan and who don’t wish to do so as well since they now call Pakistan their home. Pakistan is the land that they have ever known.
With changing nature of Afghanistan’s conflict, with one calamity hitting the nation after another, along with Afghan refugees who have carved their lives in Pakistan and do not wish to return back to Afghanistan, it is high time that Pakistani policymakers should legislate on the issue and if needed resort to alternative solutions in order to control and combat the ever-increasing and grave refugee crisis.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barrister Ayesha Iqbal is an Associate Professor for the University of London International LLB Programmes with specialization in the modules of Criminal and Tort Law. Barrister Iqbal is also the founder of a not for profit organisation, Alif Se Insaniyat, which is committed to bringing about social justice and true empowerment of marganalized communities through various mediums. Barrister Iqbal, after being Called to the bar of England and Wales in 2016 by the Honourable Society of the Lincoln’s Inn has spent considerable time in legal academics with prime focus on the Afghan Refugee Crisis in Pakistan. She is also the global advisor for Mazeltov from Pakistan.