Afghan Refugees Feeling the Heat as Geopolitical Tensions Rise

Last week, the Pakistani government callously doubled down on its strategy of using Afghan refugees as pawns in its ongoing political dispute with Afghanistan when it refused to grant a long-term extension of their stay in Pakistan. Islamabad’s move will anger Kabul, which has struggled to absorb and reintegrate the massive influx of Afghans returning from Pakistan in recent years.

On December 31, the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards of 1.4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan expired after the federal government refused to provide an extension on time.  The PoR cards allow the refugees to live in Pakistan “legally” and avoid harassment by the state. On January 3, the long-suffering refugees learned they would only be given a 30-day extension, rather than the 1-year extension the government had been considering under a trilateral agreement with Afghanistan and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  The decision to limit the extension to 30 days was made during a meeting of the federal Cabinet in Islamabad which was chaired by Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

There are currently 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan, with hundreds of thousands of undocumented refugees also living in the country.  The first wave of refugees came over from Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War, with many more arriving during the bloody civil war of the 1990s.  In 2001, the US invaded Afghanistan, beginning the longest war in American…

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