Afghan Refugees Face New Displacement after Fleeing Pakistan

Haji Mubarak Shinwari’s Journey to Pakistan

Haji Mubarak Shinwari arrived in Pakistan in 1982 with his five sons and two brothers. He diligently built a network of businesses, including cloth, fabrics, transport, and lending, and now owns numerous properties in Al-Asif Square outside of Karachi. “We have lived here without documents for all these years and set up our businesses with the help of locals,” Mr. Shinwari said.

The Afghan Community in Al-Asif Square

Al-Asif Square, just a few kilometers north of downtown Karachi, is home to a large Afghan population. The area is also surrounded by two major settlements of Afghan laborers and small business owners. A visit to Al-Asif Square and these settlements gives the impression of being in a mini Kabul, with Afghan people milling around the shops and restaurants offering Afghan delicacies. Many Afghans who arrived in Pakistan as refugees have been doing business and working in major cities such as Karachi and Quetta for decades.

The Plight of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan

Sadiq Ullah Kakar, a legal adviser for the Afghan consulate in Karachi, explained that the majority of Afghan refugees in Pakistan belong to the lower middle class and lack formal qualifications or tertiary level education. However, the situation for Afghan refugees in Pakistan has become grim, with the government’s strict deadline for them to leave the country. More than 165,000 Afghans have already fled Pakistan, facing uncertainty and challenges to their businesses and savings. The government claims it needs to protect its state and has accused many Afghans of being involved in criminal and terrorist activities.

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The Impact on Afghan Business Owners

Many Afghan refugees who have lived in Pakistan for years are being forced to leave the country, resulting in significant losses in their businesses, assets, and savings. The situation has become critical, prompting discussions between Afghan and Pakistani officials to address the issue. The Afghan refugees have been part of Pakistan’s unofficial, undocumented, and unorganized sector economy for many years.

Even Afghans with some form of identification face limitations in doing business in Pakistan. The purpose of cards such as POR (Proof of Residency) or ACC (Afghan Citizen Card) is to recognize refugees and grant them partial rights but does not allow them to operate businesses in their names.

The Struggle of Afghan Business Owners

Afghan refugees are facing difficulty in recovering loans from Pakistani customers due to the precarious situation. Many are being forced to sell their properties and assets at reduced rates, resulting in substantial financial losses. The challenges are also exacerbated by restrictions on transferring assets and money to Afghanistan.

As a result, many Afghans are resorting to illegal channels to send money to their homeland. However, not all Afghan refugees can afford such measures. The situation is dire, with many facing the harsh reality of losing their businesses and homes built over decades.

The Ongoing Challenges

The Afghan refugees are also facing exorbitant transportation costs as they leave Pakistan. The government’s policy is clear – all illegal immigrants must leave as their presence in the country has been or is illegal, presenting significant challenges for Afghan refugees who have built their lives and businesses in Pakistan for many years.

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