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Afghanistan (in red), most refugees entered Pakistan (to the southeast) and Iran (to the west). The Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan from the north.

Afghan refugees (known as Muhajir Afghans in South Asia) are native people or citizens of Afghanistan who fled their country after the Soviet invasion of 1979 and the long civil war that followed. In late 1988, a total of approximately 3.3 million Afghan refugees were housed in Pakistan. It was reported by the New York Times in November 1988 that about 100,000 Afghans were living in the city of Peshawar while more than 2 million were staying in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).[1] The now-closed Jalozai camp was one of the largest refugee camps in NWFP, Pakistan, on the outskirt of Peshawar. In or about the same time, close to two million Afghans were living in Iran. Many also made their way into North America, the European Union, Australia, and other parts of the world. Several thousands settled in India, mostly Afghan Sikhs and Hindus that became citizens of India over time.[2][3][4][5]

After September 11, 2001, when the United States and British armed forces engaged in war with the Taliban during Operation Enduring Freedom, a number of Afghans fled their country to Pakistan. By the end of 2001, there were approximately 5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, which also included the numbers that were born inside that country during the past 20 years. At the same time there were about 2.4 million Afghans staying or living in Iran, which totaled to approximately 7.5 million in both countries.

Since early 2002, more than 5 million Afghan refugees have repatriated through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from both Pakistan and Iran back to their native country, Afghanistan.[6]

Refugees returning from Pakistan in 2004.

From 2005 to late 2006, the Government of Pakistan began and completed a registration process of all Afghans living in their country. The interior ministry of Pakistan has issued them PoR (Proof of registration) cards to determine the exact number of such refugees. The total number of registered Afghans were reported at 2.15 million in February 2007.[7] In or about the same time, 920,000 were remaining in Iran.[8] In October 2007, Afghanistan's parliament, "in an open letter", urged the government of Iran to halt deportation of Afghan refugees until the winter ends.[9]

More than 350,000 refugees were repatriated from Pakistan in 2007, which left the remaining ones in that country at about 2 million at that time.[10] The repatriation process took place between March and October of that year, with each person receiving a travel package of about 100 US dollars. Approximately 80% of the refugees were those living in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), 13% were from Balochistan, 3% from Sindh, and the remaining 4% from Punjab and Pakistan's capital city, Islamabad. The main provinces to where they returned in Afghanistan were Nangarhar (57% returnees), Laghman (6.5%), Kabul (6%), Kandahar (4.4%), Kunduz and Ghazni (3.7% each). In 2006, Kabul was the top province for returnees, followed by Nangarhar, Kunduz, Logar and Paktia.[11]

In January 2008, Iran's government passed a tougher law on Afghan refugees living in their country in which the unregistered Afghans could face arrest and detention for up to five years. An official at Iran's Interior Ministry said Iranian officials now have legal authority to begin moving unregistered refugees into detention camps with prison-like conditions.[12][13]

Afghan boys in Isfahan, Iran.

As of March 2009, some 1.7 million registered Afghan nationals still remain in Pakistan. They are allowed to work and attend schools in the country until the end of 2012.[14] The majority of them live in rural areas around the Durand Line region with small communities in cities such as Peshawar, Quetta, and Karachi. According to the UNHCR and the local law enforcement agency, about 50,000 Afghan refugees live in Karachi.[15]

Sindh is home to some 50,000 Afghan refugees and most of them are staying in Karachi.[14]
—spokesman for the UNHCR
The police can move only against unregistered Afghans, whose number is very small in Karachi.[14]
—a senior police official in Karachi

A total of 935,600 refugees and 2,000 asylum seeking Afghans live in Iran, according to the UNHCR.[16] Some 2,500 Afghan refugees are also found in Russia[17] and a tiny undisclosed number in Central Asian states of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Because Afghanistan is not ready to accept so many returnees at this point, the UNHCR is slowly shifting small numbers of refugees for resettlement in third countries, mainly in the European Union, North America, and Australia.[18]

It is believed that each family returning to Afghanistan, on production of repatriation documents issued by the UNHCR, is supposedly provided free plot of land by the Government of Afghanistan to build a new home.[19]

See also


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