While 1.4 million Afghan refugees arrived with proper documentation following the fall of Kabul, there are many more who just managed to escape their country without any documents and their presence is not legal.
Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are stigmatised in the aftermath of a suicide attack targeted at a Shia mosque in Koocha Risaldar, in the old quarters of Peshawar.
For a start, strict security measures have been put in place, causing inconveniences and difficulties for unregistered Afghan refugees in the city.
Pakistan has about 1.4 million Afghan refugees according to the United Nation’s refugee organisation, the UNHCR. Government and aid agencies estimate that there is a larger number of unregistered Afghan migrants who arrived without the required documents. The Afghan arrived in droves following the fall of Kabul on 15 August last year.
Behashta Ayubi is one such refugee. She and her family arrived in the country on official visas. Life as a refugee is tough, she says, as she speaks of discrimination.
“It is very difficult for Afghan refugees to rent houses,” according to Behashta Ayubi. She says that the suicide bomber in Peshawar has made life difficult for Afghans to rent a house.
Behashta was a journalist in Afghanistan. Her father was a government employee. She says that her family was an influential one, yet, they had to wait for a visa for three months and bribes had to be paid. Yet, in Pakistan, they have had to beg people to be able to rent an accommodation.
Behashta’s family is a registered refugee. Her stay in the country is legal.
But simultaneously, there is a large number of Afghans who do not have the paperwork because they could not afford to wait in Afghanistan much longer. Nor could they afford to pay bribes.
Haseebullah, an Afghan who works in a brick kiln in Peshawar says he had no documents to be registered. In plain words, his presence in the country is illegal.
Under the circumstance, it is difficult for him to even step out of his workplace because he does not have a proof of registration card, or POR card. Police harassment is rampant.
“I cannot move around or go to other province and buy a phone SIM card in the absence of a POR card,” he says.
He said that he came to Pakistan without legal documents. However, wanted to stay here legally, which was not possible because UNHCR is not issuing cards to newly arrived Afghans.
“I travelled from Nangarhar to Spin Boldak to entre Pakistan through Chaman crossing,” he said. He spoke of the arduous travel along dirt track to enter Pakistan, paying Rs 20,000 to human smugglers.
Atiq Shah, the superintendent of police of Peshawar City says that the police would act against illegal Afghan refugees. So far, he says the police has rounded up over 850 illegal Afghan migrants in 2022 itself under the Foreigners Act. Any Afghan arriving in Pakistan without a valid visa is an illegal resident.
Yet, whenever there is any violent incident, the needle of suspicion turns towards the Afghans, who are Sunnis. They say that harassment at the hands of law enforcement agencies has become routine.
Most of Kocha Risaldar’s residents are Shias. The increasing violence and terrorism since the arrival of Afghans has meant that they face police action.
The Afghanistan-based Khorasan chapter (IS-K) of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Kocha Risaldar suicide bombing. IS-K’s targets have been the city’s Shia population. The 5 March attack on a Friday prayer congregation is said to be the biggest and most deadly such attack since 2020. That year, eight students were killed and over a hundred were injured in a mosque classroom bombing in Peshawar.