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Pakistan’s Refugee Extension: Economic and Law & Order Implications

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Pakistan has long been a sanctuary for Afghan refugees, hosting millions since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. As of 2024, Pakistan continues to grapple with the complexities of this protracted refugee situation. The recent announcement of extending the Proof of Registration (POR) cards for 1.5 million Afghan refugees until June 30, 2025, highlights the ongoing challenges and implications for Pakistan’s already fragile economy and law and order situation. This article delves into the multifaceted impacts of the Afghan refugee crisis on Pakistan, supported by recent data and insights.

Historical Context and Current Situation

Refugee Influx

The latest wave of Afghan refugees began in August 2021, following the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan. This event triggered an exodus of 600,000 to 800,000 Afghans seeking refuge in Pakistan. Currently, Pakistan hosts nearly three million Afghans, with around 2.4 million possessing some form of legal documentation, including 1.5 million with UNHCR Proof of Residence cards and 800,000 with Afghan Citizenship Cards (ACC).

Policy Responses

Pakistan’s response has included both humanitarian support and controversial repatriation efforts. The repatriation program launched in November 2023 faced criticism for attempting to return millions of Afghans regardless of their legal status. However, following discussions with UNHCR Chief Filippo Grandi, Pakistan has temporarily paused these expulsions, reflecting the complex balance between national interests and humanitarian obligations.

Economic Impacts

Strain on Resources

The influx of Afghan refugees has placed significant pressure on Pakistan’s already strained resources. With a population of over 220 million, the additional burden of hosting three million refugees exacerbates issues in sectors such as healthcare, education, and housing. The costs associated with providing basic services to refugees are substantial, further straining Pakistan’s limited fiscal resources.

Employment and Economic Opportunities

Refugees often compete with local populations for limited job opportunities, leading to increased unemployment and underemployment among Pakistanis. This situation is particularly acute in urban areas where job markets are already saturated. Moreover, the informal nature of employment among refugees means they often work for lower wages, driving down wage levels for local workers and contributing to economic instability.

International Aid and Development Assistance

While Pakistan receives international aid to support its refugee population, these funds are often insufficient to cover the comprehensive needs of refugees and host communities. Additionally, aid dependency can create economic distortions, affecting local markets and development priorities. The call from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for greater international recognition and support underscores the need for a more sustainable and equitable approach to managing the economic impacts of the refugee crisis.

Law and Order Challenges

Security Concerns

The presence of a large refugee population poses significant security challenges for Pakistan. Refugee camps and informal settlements can become hotspots for criminal activities, including smuggling, trafficking, and militancy. These issues are particularly prevalent in border regions such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, where law enforcement capabilities are often stretched thin.

Social Tensions

The prolonged presence of Afghan refugees has also led to social tensions between refugees and host communities. Competition for resources, cultural differences, and perceptions of preferential treatment for refugees can fuel resentment and conflict. These social dynamics complicate efforts to integrate refugees and maintain social cohesion.

Legal and Administrative Burdens

Managing the legal and administrative aspects of such a large refugee population is a daunting task for Pakistani authorities. The extension of POR cards and the temporary suspension of deportations require significant administrative coordination and resources. Ensuring that refugees are documented and their rights protected while maintaining national security adds another layer of complexity to the law and order situation.

Afghan refugee crisis

Pakistan’s enduring Afghan refugee crisis continues to impact its economy and law and order. The strain on resources, employment challenges, and security concerns illustrate the multifaceted nature of these impacts. As Pakistan navigates these challenges, greater international support and a comprehensive approach to refugee management are essential. Recognizing the burdens shouldered by Pakistan and fostering collective responsibility will be crucial in addressing the long-term implications of the Afghan refugee crisis.

Abu Bakr Alvi
Abu Bakr Alvi
Mr. Abu Bakr Alvi, Senior Journalist Based in Faisalabad

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