Pakistan Table of Contents
The presence of large numbers Afghan refugees has had a weighty impact on the demographics of Pakistan. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, refugees began streaming over the borders into Pakistan. By 1990 approximately 3.2 million refugees had settled there, a decrease of about 90,000 from 1989. Previously uninhabited areas of the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan had been settled by refugees during the 1980s. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that in 1990 there were 345 Afghan refugee villages. Of these, 68.5 percent were in the North-West Frontier Province, 26.0 percent in Balochistan, and 5.5 percent in Punjab. Each village housed an average of 10,000 people, and women and children accounted for 75 percent of the refugee population.
The influx of refugees has had profound social consequences, and the population of desert areas has also had an effect on the environment. Initially, Pakistanis wanted to help their neighbors in a time of need, but difficulties slowly led many to think that their friendship had gone far enough. Among the problems were inflation, a dearth of low-paying jobs because these were taken by refugees, and a proliferation of weapons, especially in urban areas. The escalation of animosity between refugees and Pakistanis, particularly in Punjab, caused the government to restrict the refugees' free movement in the country in the mid1980s .
To assist Pakistan in preventing conflict by keeping the refugees separate from the local population, the UNHCR placed restrictions on disbursements of food and other goods in its refugee camps in the North-West Frontier Province and in Balochistan. Since the 1989 end of the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, the UNHCR, the Pakistan government, and an array of NGOs have encouraged the refugees to return home, but until internecine fighting in Afghanistan stops, many will elect to remain in Pakistan. In early 1994, the number of Afghan refugees still residing in Pakistan was estimated at 1.4 million, according to Amnesty International. More than 2 million Afghan refugees also remained in Iran.
Data as of April 1994