The number of Afghans living in Pakistan reached 3.5 million in June this year with only 1.3 million of them registered with the authorities, according to date released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
According to the UN agency, there are around 775,000 unregistered Afghans residing in the country.
Almost 68.8% of Afghan citizens live in urban or semi-urban places of Pakistan while 31.2% reside in 54 different areas including villages.
As of June 2023, there are 735,800 or 52.6% of the total Pakistan’s illegal Afghans living in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 321,677 or 24.1% in Balochistan, 191,053 or 14.3% in Punjab, 73,789 or 5.5% in Sindh, 41,520 or 3.1% in Islamabad, and 4,352 or 0.3% in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Since August 2021, when the Taliban’s seized power following the US and Nato’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, over 600,000 new Afghan refugees and migrants have entered Pakistan.
In addition to the new arrivals, Pakistan hosts 1.3 million Afghan refugees, who are holding the Proof of Registration (PoR) Cards issued by the government, UNHCR spokesperson Qaiser Khan Afridi recently said.
Over the last two years, over 16,000 Afghans have returned to Afghanistan through the UNHCR-facilitated voluntary repatriation programme, he added.
The Afghan refugees in possession of PoR cards are legally registered with the authorities unlike the other ones.
Read also: Afghan refugee influx
In 2017, the government issued a one-time Afghanistan Citizen Card (ACC) to around 880,000 refugees which expired this year.
“The UNHCR is in talks with the Pakistani authorities about extending the registration cards of Afghan refugees,” Afridi said, adding that they were hopeful for a positive outcome on this issue.
According to Afridi, a positive decision from the authorities will provide relief to the Afghan refugees, who are experiencing uncertainty and anxiety because of the expiration of their cards.
According to a report, if Pakistan continues its ad-hoc refugee policies without increased donor support and assistance for third-state settlement, the already-precarious situation is likely to turn into a crisis.
Pakistan’s economic growth in financial year 2023 dropped from 2% to a projected 0.29%, so there is little hope for the country’s stressed public sector to provide refugees with proper housing, livelihood, education, and healthcare facilities.
The illegal Afghan nationals have made major silent changes in the economic structure of Pakistan, notably by expanding their businesses by spreading various products from foreign countries into local markets and not paying taxes.
Apart from this, illegal Afghan nationals residing in Pakistan are involved in smuggling of narcotics and other banned goods under the guise of transit trade.
(With input from agencies)