Laraib Ahmed / GICJ

In the bustling streets and hidden corners of Pakistan, a humanitarian crisis continues to unfold, largely unseen by the world. Afghan refugees, fleeing decades of conflict and instability in their homeland, have sought refuge in Pakistan, only to find themselves ensnared in a web of human rights violations and systemic neglect. This article delves into the grim reality faced by these vulnerable populations, highlighting the urgent need for international attention and action.

Historical Context and Current Landscape

The exodus of Afghan refugees to Pakistan began in the late 1970s following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Over the years, waves of refugees have crossed the border, escaping war, persecution, and economic hardship. Today, Pakistan hosts one of the largest Afghan refugee populations in the world, with around 1.4 million registered individuals. Despite their significant presence, these refugees face a myriad of challenges that threaten their basic human rights.

Legal Limbo and Statelessness

One of the most pressing issues is the legal limbo in which many Afghan refugees find themselves. Pakistan is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, which means there is no formal legal framework to protect the rights of refugees. As a result, many Afghan refugees lack official documentation, rendering them stateless and depriving them of essential services such as healthcare, education, and employment. This statelessness perpetuates a cycle of poverty and marginalisation, making it nearly impossible for refugees to rebuild their lives.

Forced Evictions and Arbitrary Detentions

Reports of forced evictions and arbitrary detentions are alarmingly common. Refugee settlements, often makeshift and overcrowded, are subject to sudden demolitions, leaving thousands homeless and destitute. In many instances, refugees are detained without cause or due process, facing harassment, extortion, and abuse at the hands of law enforcement.  In 2023 alone, 21,608 Afghan nationals were arrested in the country. The mass evictions and detentions have created a humanitarian disaster, with many refugees left homeless and without basic necessities. The Pakistani authorities' actions violate international human rights standards and contribute to an environment of instability and fear among the refugee population. These abuses are particularly troubling given the precarious situation in Afghanistan, where returning refugees face significant risks to their safety and well-being. These actions not only violate international human rights standards but also instil a pervasive sense of fear and insecurity among the refugee community.

Discrimination and Social Exclusion


Discrimination against Afghan refugees is deeply entrenched in Pakistani society. Refugees frequently encounter xenophobia and hostility, exacerbated by political rhetoric that scapegoats them for economic and security issues. This social exclusion extends to the labour market, where refugees are often relegated to low-paying, informal jobs with little to no labour protections. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, facing gender-based violence, exploitation, and limited access to education and healthcare.

According to UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk, the crackdown on Afghan refugees in the past years has intensified these challenges, with women and children suffering disproportionately. They often face harassment and arbitrary detention, compounding their already precarious situation and limiting their ability to seek safety and stability.

Access to Education and Healthcare

The right to education is a distant dream for many Afghan refugee children in Pakistan. Overcrowded and under-resourced schools struggle to accommodate them, leading to high dropout rates and a lack of educational opportunities. A recent survey conducted by Save the Children found that nearly 65% of the 250,000 children who returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan are no longer attending school, primarily due to the absence of necessary enrollment documents. Similarly, access to healthcare is severely restricted, with refugees often facing discrimination and exorbitant costs in public and private healthcare facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges, highlighting the critical need for inclusive policies and support systems.

Recent Escalation of Abuses

Since mid-September 2023, Pakistani authorities have escalated their campaign against Afghan refugees. Over 375,000 Afghans have been forced to return to Afghanistan, with many facing life-threatening conditions upon arrival. The Pakistani police have carried out mass detentions and night raids and have destroyed identity documents, making it nearly impossible for refugees to claim their rights or seek asylum. Police have also been reported to demand bribes, confiscate property, and bulldoze homes, with women facing additional threats of sexual harassment and assault.

International Response and the Way Forward

The international community has a pivotal role to play in addressing the plight of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Increased funding and resources are essential to support humanitarian aid, legal assistance, and integration programs. In a statement, Amnesty International declared that "Pakistan's 'Illegal Foreigners' Repatriation Plan" violates refugee and international human rights law. Therefore, there must be concerted efforts to pressure the Pakistani government to uphold the rights of refugees and implement policies that provide legal protection, access to services, and opportunities for self-reliance.

The human rights violations faced by Afghan refugees in Pakistan are a stark reminder of the urgent need for compassion, solidarity, and action. These individuals, who have endured unimaginable hardships, deserve the chance to live with dignity and hope. By shining a light on their struggles and advocating for their rights, we can help pave the way for a more just and humane response to one of the world's most protracted refugee crises.

Geneva International Center for Justice (GICJ) calls upon human rights organisations, policymakers, and the public not to remain passive in addressing the human rights abuses against Afghan refugees in Pakistan. It is imperative to challenge discriminatory policies, advocate for legal protections, and support initiatives that uphold the rights and dignity of refugees. By doing so, the international community can help alleviate the suffering of Afghan refugees and work towards a more just and humane global society.

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