Rehan Muhammad

Accurately determining the exact count of Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan remains an intricate challenge. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports approximately 140,000 Afghan refugees holding Proof of Registration (POR) cards within Pakistan. Additionally, an estimated 850,000 Afghans possess Afghan Citizen Cards.

Data from two years ago suggests that, apart from these registered Afghan refugees, over 600,000 unregistered Afghan refugees also call Pakistan home.

Qaisar Afridi, the spokesperson for the United Nations Organization for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan, indicates that roughly 30 percent, or one-third, of these Afghans, reside in 54 Afghan camps or settlements, with the remaining 70 percent dispersed throughout the country. However, ascertaining the precise accuracy of this estimate concerning the total Afghan refugee population in Pakistan remains a formidable task.

Mian Khel, an advocate for the rights of Afghan refugees residing in the Tajabad area of Peshawar and the head of the Afghan National Committee, posits that millions of Afghan refugees have entered Pakistan unlawfully since the Taliban assumed control in Afghanistan. Providing a concrete estimate proves challenging.

Nonetheless, according to Mian Khel’s estimate, this figure could potentially reach five million, with a significant majority residing in various regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. An even more formidable task is accounting for school-age children within this refugee population.

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Shams Safi, who has been involved in various projects with the international organization UNICEF for 25 years, explains that UNICEF and WHO have devised a formula based on the overall population of a given demographic to determine the number of refugee children, aged 10 to 15, within such scenarios. This formula greatly assists in estimating the count.

According to this formula, nearly one-third of the entire Afghan population residing in Pakistan comprises children below ten years of age. Extending the age limit to fifteen years could encompass approximately half of this population.

If Mian Khel’s estimate holds true, and the total Afghan population in Pakistan nears five million, then, as per Shams Safi’s assessment, this would encompass approximately two and a half million children under the age of fifteen, with roughly twelve million being girls.

This begs the question: how many of these girls are receiving regular education in Pakistan? In pursuit of this information, TNN endeavored to gather data. However, as of now, neither government institutions, private organizations, nor researchers possess comprehensive information.

Nonetheless, Jeena, an Afghan student who obtained her master’s degree from Peshawar University and currently works with a non-governmental organization in Islamabad, estimates that less than 20 percent of Afghan girls in Pakistan have completed secondary school, with the majority being Farsi speakers.

In Peshawar’s private schools, the predominant language of instruction is Persian. Dr. Muhammad Noor, a resident of Board Bazar, Peshawar, who conducted research on “Social and Psychological Issues for School-going Afghan Girls in Pakistan” for his Master’s Degree in Public Health thesis, reveals that only about 10 percent of migrant girls attend school, leaving the majority without access to education. He highlights that most Pashtun men refrain from sending their daughters to school due to the absence of a dedicated education system for girls in Pakistan.