Iqra Athar ’26
Pakistan has embarked on one of the world’s largest forced deportations, targeting Afghan refugees residing within its borders. With a Nov. 1 deadline set for undocumented Afghan migrants to leave voluntarily or face arrest and expulsion, mass departures and a deepening humanitarian crisis have ensued. While more than 100,000 individuals have fled before the deadline, thousands continue to pour out of the country in a chaotic departure.
Pakistan, home to 1.7 million undocumented Afghan migrants, has hosted these refugees for decades, with many having fled Afghanistan due to ongoing conflicts, including the recent Taliban takeover. The Pakistani government’s decision to forcibly deport Afghan refugees stems from claims of security concerns, citing Afghan refugees as responsible for smuggling, terror attacks, and petty crimes. However, this sweeping expulsion order has left vulnerable communities including women, children and transgender individuals at risk. For these refugees, returning to Afghanistan under the Taliban regime poses a grave threat. The Taliban has imposed strict restrictions on various activities, including the prohibition of music and limitations on education, particularly for girls. “We fear for our lives if we return,” says a 14-year-old Afghan girl who has been living in Pakistan. “In Afghanistan, my education would come to a grinding halt.”
International aid organizations like the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Danish Refugee Council and the International Rescue Committee have expressed concerns over the conditions faced by those fleeing Pakistan’s crackdown on irregular migration. They cite refugees enduring arduous journeys and having to part with their possessions for transportation. Critics within Pakistan have accused the government of hypocrisy in supporting the Palestinian cause while forcibly deporting Afghan refugees. Simultaneously, the Afghan government has condemned the deportation order as ‘cruel and barbaric,’ urging Pakistan to provide undocumented Afghans with more time to leave. The Taliban, now in power in Afghanistan, has set up temporary camps for returnees but faces significant challenges in providing for their needs.
It is essential to understand the historical context of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The influx of Afghan refugees began in 1979 with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and it continued with the U.S. invasion in 2001. The UNHCR estimates that 1.3 million Afghan refugees reside in Pakistan, with 50% of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and 24% in Balochistan. The situation has been further complicated by the lack of proper documentation for many refugees, as obtaining legal documentation has been challenging, even for those who have lived in Pakistan for years. The government’s deportation order also affects Afghan refugees awaiting resettlement to the U.S., the UK, Germany and Canada.
The forced expulsion of Afghan refugees from Pakistan is rooted in the complex history of the region. While Pakistan has carried a substantial burden in hosting Afghan refugees, the international community, especially Western nations, bears a shared responsibility to support and protect vulnerable Afghans. The current situation underscores the global failure to provide adequate support and solutions for the millions of displaced Afghans in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.