Posts Tagged ‘Afghan refugees in karachi’


By Zia Ur Rehman

January 5, 2016

The News International 

Unable to reach decision on extending refugees’ stay in Pakistan, SAFRON issues letter instructing LEAs not to harass them


After the current framework under which Afghan refugees reside in Pakistan expired on December 31, the ones living in different areas of Karachi fear that they would be harassed by the law enforcement agencies even though the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) has restrained them from doing so.


SAFRON, after failing to reach a decision about granting an extension in the status of registered Afghan refugees, issued a letter to the interior ministry secretary and the provinces’ chief secretaries, home secretaries and police chiefs, asking them to instruct all relevant departments and agencies to ensure that Afghan refugees possessing Proof of Registration (PoR) cards issued by the National Database Registration Authority were not subjected to any adverse action or harassment until the national policy on Afghan refugees was finalised.

After an attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 wherein over 147 people, including 135 children, were killed, the law enforcement agencies had launched a crackdown on Afghan refugees across the country, including Karachi, compelling many of them to return to their homeland, despite the harsh cold weather there at that time and security issues.

Haji Abdullah, a representative of the Afghan refugees in Karachi, said SAFRON had timely issued the letter as cases of police harassment had reduced after it.

“Although police harass refugees regularly, the cases have decreased now,” he said, adding that copies of the letter had been distributed at all police stations of areas with Afghan refugee populations.

However, some refugees said police were arresting them under the Foreigner Registration Act and releasing them after taking a bribe between Rs1,000 and Rs.10,000.

Haji Sohrab, another Afghan elder, said police had found an opportunity to mint money from the poor refugees whose PoR cards expired on December 31.

“Police are obeying SAFRON’s orders and harassing the refugees,” he added.

Pakistan has been host to the world’s largest refugee population. Millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan in the 1980s after the Soviet invasion and during the rule of Taliban in the late 1990s. At one time, there were 4.4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Now there are around 1.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan with PoR cards, said Duniya Aslam Khan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson in Pakistan.

In addition, over a million unregistered ones also live in Pakistan, according to the Commissioner of Afghan Refugees.

The UNCHR statistics show that there are 62,500 registered Afghan refugees in Sindh, 85 percent of them in Union Counil-4 and Union Council-5 of the defunct Gadap Town, which includes Camp Jadeed and Afghan Basti.

After the Peshawar school attack, the National Action Plan was chalked out that called for formation of a policy that dealt with Afghan refugees; starting off with their registration.

Khan said Pakistan had shared its draft policy on Afghan refugees in the tripartite committee meeting in Kabul. “The proposed extension for the stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is till 2017 but the government has not announced its policy yet,” she added.

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By Zia Ur Rehman

Thursday, October 22, 2015


It took two weeks of violent fighting for the Afghan government and their foreign allied forces to take back Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth largest city, from the Taliban, who had captured it on September 28.

But hundreds of miles away from Kunduz, the residents of Camp Jadeed, a makeshift Afghan refugees’ neighbourhood in Karachi off the Northern Bypass, are still worried over the news coming from different parts of the Kunduz province through Afghan TV channels watched there.


“We keenly follow news of the fierce fighting between the Afghan forces and Taliban in Kunduz and updates on bomb blasts as some of our relatives went back there from Karachi a few months ago because of the increasing harassment at the hands of the law enforcement agencies in the city,” said Mustaqeem Jan, 55, who had arrived in Karachi from the Kunduz province in 1979.

Afghan refugees and their representatives said most inhabitants of Camp Jadeed and Afghan Basti, located near Al-Asif Square on Super Highway, had arrived from different districts of the Kunduz province including Kunduz, Khan Abad and Chahar Darra.

They are ethnically Pashtuns, Uzbeks, and Tajiks. Some of them are from the Sar-e-Pol and Baghlan provinces.

After an attack on a school in Peshawar in December last year that killed over 130 students, the law enforcement agencies, especially police, launched a crackdown on Afghan refugees across the country, including Karachi, compelling many of them to return to their homeland, despite the harsh cold weather there at that time and security issues.

Jan said his brother, Subhanullah, went to Kunduz city in March after police arrested him even though he had a Proof of Registration card issued by the National Database and Registration Authority that was valid till December 31.

From January to March, police arrested dozens of refugees in different parts of the city every day and registered cases against only a few of them under the Foreign Registration Act. The rest were released after taking bribes ranging between Rs10,000 and Rs50,000.

Haji Abdullah Bukhari, a representative of the Afghan refugees in the city, said the crackdown had pushed Afghan refugees to go back to their home provinces, especially Kunduz.

“At that time, there was comparatively peace in Kunduz and refugees largely migrated there,” Bukhari added.

Officials of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Karachi said there was a rise in voluntarily repatriation of Afghan refugees from the country, including Karachi.

The UNCHR statistics show there are 62,500 registered Afghan refugees in Sindh and 85 percent of them live in union counil-4 and union council-5 of the defunct Gadap Town, which includes Camp Jadeed and Afghan Basti.

From January to October 10, 10,814 families (54,984 individuals) have been repatriated from the country – 915 families (4,518 individuals) of them from Sindh.

The UNCHR figures show that 2,684 families (12,991 individuals) and 6,318 families (31,224 individuals) were repatriated from the country in 2014 and 2013 respectively.

However, Afghan elders and analysts pointed out that the recent crisis in Kunduz had negatively affected the repatriation process as the refugees who had arrived from the province were now unwilling to return because of the security situation there.

“Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies have been harassing us so that we leave the country. But there are still security problems there as the Taliban are still in position to capture any Afghan city and start a fierce fighting with the Afghan government,” said Bukhari.

The United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has that estimated that around 13,000 families had escaped Kunduz city in the last two weeks. Jan’s brother is one among them. He fled to Kabul because of the fighting and is now searching for a home in Kabul to permanently live there.

“My brother is finding it very hard to find a home in Kabul as it’s very expensive,” said Jan.

He added that his brother had advised him and other relatives not to return to their home country.

Besides, the refugees said those who had returned to Kunduz were now finding it difficult to come back to Pakistan because of its recently imposed restrictions.


In a makeshift Afghan refugee camp off the Northern Bypass, many inhabitants sit and gossip along the neighbourhood’s dusty lanes.

Most of the refugees are avoiding leaving the camp for work and other reasons as they are afraid that police will harass them even though many of them posses a proof of registration (PoR) card.

Bashir Ahmed, 30, a daily-wage construction worker, is one of them. “It has become very difficult for us to roam easily,” Ahmed told The News.

After an attack on a school in Peshawar in December last year that killed over 130 students, the law enforcement agencies, especially police, have started a crackdown against Afghan refugees across the country.

Their leaders claim that police have arrested dozens of Afghan refugees in Karachi since the APS attack.

Haji Sohrab, a representative of the Afghan refugees in Karachi, said the law enforcement agencies, in the beginning, had started their crackdown against Afghan refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, but now they had also intensified their operation against the community in Karachi.

“Police have also been arresting the Afghan refugees who possess PoR cards issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) that are valid till December 31,” Sohrab added.

Refugees returning

Interviews with Afghan refugees suggest that the recent crackdown has compelled many of them to return to their home country, despite the harsh cold weather and security issues.

They said police were arresting dozens of refugees in different areas in Karachi every day and registering cases against only a few of them under the Foreign Registration Act (FRA). The rest were released after taking bribes ranging between Rs10,000 and Rs50,000.

Sohrab claimed that he had released around 200 refugees on bail in recent weeks.

Afghan refugees said after every major terrorist attack, the law enforcement agencies targeted the community, despite the fact that their involvement was not proved.

“The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, a Pakistani militant group, claimed the responsibility of the Peshawar attack and also issued photos of the attackers, who were Pakistani, but police have still been targeting us,” said Ahmed, a charged young Afghan refugee.

Ahmed is also thinking of leaving Pakistan now. “A number of Afghan refugees have recently gone back to Afghanistan through the Chaman and Torkham borders because of recent crackdown,” he said.

However, police officials, denying the allegations, said they were only arresting illegal refugees.

“If refugees don’t have PoR cards, that means that they are illegal and we are only arresting them,” said an officer at the Gulshan-e-Maymar police station requesting anonymity.

“The refugees’ leaders are baselessly alleging that police are harassing the refugees with PoR cards or freeing them after taking bribes,” he added.

A recent visit to a makeshift Afghan refugee camp in Karachi made clear that Pakistani authorities have sent a large number of legal and illegal Afghan refugees back to their native land.

With the assistance of the Afghan consulate, Sohrab released 26 Afghan refugees from a prison in Sukkur District in January and handed them over to Afghan authorities at the Chaman border in Balochistan.

Sohrab said the refugees were arrested in Sukkur while travelling to Karachi. “Some of them were coming to Karachi for medical treatment and others were living in the city for the past two decades,” he said.

“In many cases, police tear up the PoR cards and register cases against the refugees under the FRA.”

Janan Mosazai, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, in his visit to Karachi in January, said his country, Pakistan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had agreed on a voluntary, dignified and gradual return of refugees from Pakistan.

“To bring back all refugees from Pakistan is key priority of the Afghan government. For this purpose, our government is improving environment to persuade them to return,” Mosazai said.

He added that the Sindh chief minister had assured him in a meeting that the provincial government would treat Afghan refugees in a dignified way.

Sheltering millions

Pakistan has been host to the world’s largest refugee population. Millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan in the 1980s after the Soviet invasion and during the rule of Taliban in the late 1990s.

“Currently, there are some 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan who are in possession of the PoR cards,” said Duniya Aslam Khan, a spokesperson for the UNHCR in Pakistan.

“These cards are valid until December 2015 and give the holders protection against arbitrary detention and deportation under the FRA.”

The UNHCR does not have any statistics on undocumented immigrants, but according to government estimates, they could be between 1 million and 1.5 million. Mosazai said the majority of refugees had been residing in Khyber Pakhutnkhwa and Balochistan, while their number in Sindh was around 65,000.

Over 81 percent of Afghans are Pashtuns, with much smaller percentages of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other ethnic groups, according to a report titled “Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: Push Comes to Shove” prepared by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

In Sindh, nationalist parties and a section of the civil society regularly raise their concerns over the presence of Afghan refugees in the province, especially in Karachi, and demand that the government should send them back.

afghan refugees

Afghan refugees choose to go home as the situation worsens in Pakistan

By Zia Ur Rehman

published in The News



“Pakistan had been a haven for war-affected Afghans for decades, but now Pakistan itself is facing the same problems of terrorism and militancy that Afghanistan has been suffering for the last three decades. We are going back to Afghanistan because Pakistan no longer offers jobs, security and peace of mind,” says Jahan Sher while returning to his home town Mazar-e-Sharif. The economy of Afghanistan has improved during the last four years, he boasts.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claims that more Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland from Pakistan this year than in the previous year. Increasing incidents of harassment and arrests by Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies following terrorist activities in the country, poor socio-economic conditions, floods in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and increase in forcible deportation are key factors compelling the refugees to go back, refugees’ leaders and rights activists believe.

Pakistan has been host to the world’s largest refugee population. Millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan in the 1980s after the Soviet invasion and during the rule of Taliban in the late 1990s.

Currently there are some 1.6 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, with 45 per cent residing in refugees camps and the rest scattered amongst the host communities. Last year, Pakistan and the UNHCR signed an agreement to extend the stay of Afghan refugees until the end of 2010. About 3.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan in the past 9 years, according to UNCHR.

“A total of 1,09,383 Afghans have gone back in March-October through the UNCHR’s return programme, while the number of refugees returning to Afghanistan in 2009 was 51,290,” said Duniya Aslam Khan, UNHCR Pakistan’s Assistant Public Officer. “The number of returnees this year has increased by 51 per cent when compared to the number of people that returned in 2009. Refugees registered in the country are receiving a better assistance, transport and reintegration package, including a grant of $100,” added Khan.

“Most of the returnees cited the difficult situation in Pakistan, worst economic factors and improvement in some provinces of Afghanistan as the important reasons for their decision to return,” said Nader Farhad, a UNHCR spokesperson in Kabul.

“After the continuing terrorist attacks on offices of Pakistan’s security agencies, the crackdown against Afghan refugees, both registered and unregistered, has been accelerated across the country. Thousands of refugees have been arrested and forcibly deported,” said Haji Sohrab, the representative of Afghan refugees appointed by Afghan Consulate in Karachi. “Many Afghan refugees who do not have Proof of Registration (PoR), a document given to these refugees jointly by the government of Pakistan and UNCHR, face strict action by the police,” informed Sohrab.

“Thousands of Afghans, especially students in religious seminaries, daily wage workers and scavengers, have been arrested under the Foreign Registration Act (FRA) during the last two years and deported to their homeland,” said Iqbal Shah Khattak, a law teacher at Urdu University, Karachi.

However, refugees complain that police and law enforcement authorities have time and again raided houses in the refugee camps and other areas and arrested even those community members who had PoR.

“Refugees lived without any legal document for 28 years, till the 2007 registration when they were provided the PoR cards. This gave rise to a lot of legal problems. They could be stopped, searched and arrested under the FRA,” said Khattak, who has worked extensively on refugee rights in Karachi. Afghans in Pakistan have been regularly complaining about harassment and detention at the hands of police, he added.

“The registration process is flawed, leaving many refugees unregistered. Hence, these refugees are vulnerable to harassment and possible deportation,” maintained Sohrab. “The registration process was also marred by problems like lack of guidance, transport, translators and female registration.”

Amid crackdown against illegal Afghan immigrants across the country, industries are now forced by the government not to hire foreign workers without documentary proof, thus adding to the employment problems of refugees.

Denying the reports of arresting refugees with PoR cards, police claim they are arresting only those Afghan immigrants who are living illegally and without documentary proof. “We arrest illegal Afghan immigrants under FRA as well as the refugees involved in crimes,” said police officials, requesting anonymity. Media reports suggest hundreds of Afghan refugees have been detained by police across the country as a pre-emptive security sweep ahead of Muharram.

Majority of refugees are returning to Afghanistan because of worst flooding in Pakistan. Twenty out of 29 refugee camps across the province were swept away by flooding, destroying thousands of homes and leaving about 85,500 refugees homeless. One of the worst hit refugee villages is Azakhel in Nowshera where 23,000 people lost homes.

“Our houses were completely destroyed by the floods and the government is not able to help us,” said Khan Muhammad, an Afghan refugee living in Azakhel camp. “We are planning to go back to Afghanistan where, at least, some of our residential problems would be solved.”

Instead of going back to their villages, most of the returning refugees are settling in cities where they could find jobs easily. “Due to the prevailing insurgency in Pakistan’s tribal areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, thousands of Pakistani Pashtuns are coming to Afghanistan for jobs,” said Basir Ahmed Hotak, an Afghan journalist.

Majority of refugees hailing from worst-hit provinces of Afghanistan, where security situation is still critical, were reluctant to go back to their homeland. “Majority of those returning belong to northern provinces like Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat where the security situation is better,” informed Arshad Khan, a refugee from Helmand. “How can we return to places like Helmand and Kandahar where security situation is worst?”

UNHCR’s officials and refugee leaders confide to TNS that a large number of repatriated refugees are coming back to Pakistan after taking money from UNHCR. “Going back to Afghanistan was a mistake as the security and economic situation is not good in Afghanistan,” said Hafeez Shah, who recently returned to Karachi from Afghanistan.

Some of the returning refugees complain that there is no shelter, electricity, schools, hospitals and employment opportunities in Afghanistan which compelled them to come back to Pakistan.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in its report tilted ‘Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: Push Comes to Shove’ expressed concerns over closure of refugees camps and intimidation of refugees at the hand of police.

But Najamuddin Khan, Federal Minister for SAFRON (Ministry of State and Frontier Region) said their repatriation was completely on voluntary basis and the government wants their respectful return. The ministry had suggested to UNHCR to give $5000 to each Afghan family returning to Afghanistan for shelter and livelihood there.

(The writer is an independent journalist and researcher and works on human rights, conflict and development. Email: