TRAFIG Working Paper No. 7

Figurations of Displacement in and beyond Pakistan

Empirical findings and reflections on protracted displacement and translocal connections of Afghans

Pakistan currently hosts up to three million Afghans, a number that is likely to increase due to the Taliban's recent return to power in Afghanistan. This working paper is based on empirical research on the experience of Afghan displacement in Pakistan from 2019 until early 2021 as part of the European Union funded TRAFIG project.

Findings show that Afghans’ protracted displacement is classed. Many low-skilled, low-income and largely non-educated Afghans experience barriers to upward social mobility, particularly leading the Afghan youth to consider migrating to Europe. First-generation Afghan refugees who migrated mainly in the 1980s and 1990s prefer to stay in Pakistan; only few would return if the conditions allowed it. While aiming to incentivise return, Pakistani government policies hamper the opportunity for Afghans to move around within and beyond Pakistan and remain connected to their translocal and transnational networks. Many Afghan refugees have family members who live in other parts of Pakistan or in other countries, but the potential of these networks to lift those in Pakistan out of protracted displacement is limited. We also found that social cohesion between Afghan refugees and the Pakistani host society has been decreasing. Local networks are highly significant in day-to-day life, but intergroup relations do not yield any emancipatory potential for Afghans. Afghans’ presence in Pakistan needs to be reconsidered by all actors, namely the country of origin, host and donor countries. The current approach of ‘administering Afghans’ keeps them in protracted displacement without the opportunity to integrate legally or sustainably. It needs to be replaced with a new narrative and operational approach—one that acknowledges Afghans’ contributions to Pakistan’s economy, society and culture, and that secures their right to remain in Pakistan. Such an approach is particularly important today given the looming prospect of more Afghans entering Pakistan to escape from living under a government headed by the Taliban.

Keywords: Protracted displacement, migration governance, connectivity, (social) mobility, immobility, refugee regime, translocal lives, social networks, agency, social class, local integration, return, repatriation, durable solution, Pakistan, Afghanistan

Authors: Katja M. Mielke, Nouman Shahid, Abdur Rauf Khatana, Zahoor Ahmad, Amber Irshad, Sobia Kiran, Benjamin Etzold, Shamin Asghari, Mudassar M. Javed

Cite as: Mielke, K, M.et al. (2021). Figurations of Displacement in and beyond Pakistan: Empirical findings and reflections on protracted displacement and translocal connections of Afghans (TRAFIG working paper 7). Bonn: BICC.

You can download the working paper here.

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