Operation: Opération: Pakistan



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Key Figures

2020 year-end results
117,500 patients treated in UNHCR-supported health facilities in refugee villages
75,000 vulnerable refugee families received a one-time cash grant to meet their immediate needs during the COVID-19 pandemic
54,111 Afghan children (39% girls) enrolled in 145 schools in 54 refugee villages across Pakistan
2,500 refugees and Pakistani citizens enrolled in technical and vocational skills development training programmes
200 latrines and hand-washing stations constructed across 54 refugee villages, schools and health facilities
2021 planning figures
1.4 million Afghan refugees (POR - proof of registration cardholders) will be verified and receive new biometric documentation (smartcard IDs) from the Government of Pakistan
500,000 people of concern will benefit from the construction/rehabilitation of 10 health facilities
150,000 refugees will benefit from environmentally friendly renewable energy interventions
61,500 refugee children will be enrolled in primary education in 137 schools in 54 refugee villages across the country
58,000 refugees are estimated to return in 2021

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Increase in
2020 1,549,507
2019 1,528,852
2018 1,589,050


[["Refugees",1438955],["Asylum-seekers",9796],["IDPs",98898],["Returned IDPs",1782],["Returned refugees",14],["Others of concern",62]]
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2020 {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"budget":[137.35235565899998,127.07320187,99.20166917,99.2016687,99.66172207,115.85279593],"expenditure":[54.72576009,53.21599053,36.682893469999996,35.71493443,56.82867187000001,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[68.04881327,63.73213975,68.62045115000001,72.94794218999999,72.2926631,88.47232195999999],"p2":[0.23462954,0.235,0.599,0.55816334,0.58,0.736328],"p3":[50.34262892,59.04825415,28.98221802,25.695563170000003,26.78905897,26.64414597],"p4":[18.726283929,4.05780797,1,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[31.68652771,34.23735457,26.681176219999998,27.45537318,48.49078002,null],"p2":[0.15099556,0.13975851,0.11294747999999999,0.1098938,0.19173095,null],"p3":[16.56428054,17.49127573,9.88876977,8.14966745,8.1461609,null],"p4":[6.32395628,1.34760172,null,null,null,null]}
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  • 2014
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021

Operational context

In 2020, the protection environment in Pakistan remained stable. Despite the impact of COVID-19 on Pakistan’s economy, the Government continued to uphold inclusive policies towards Afghan refugees, notably in access to health, education and livelihoods. In February 2020, the Government and UNHCR jointly convened an international conference to mark the 40 years of the Afghan refugee situation in Pakistan and galvanize greater international burden and responsibility-sharing in support of lasting solutions. The Government also initiated preparations for the document renewal and information verification exercise (DRIVE) that verifies the 1.4 million refugees and provides them with new identity documentation in the form of a biometric smartcard. This exercise will provide a critical opportunity to expand the refugee dataset, allowing for more effective responses around refugee protection, assistance and solutions, including voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan.

UNHCR continued to facilitate voluntary returns to Afghanistan. Only 1,125 refugees in Pakistan decided to return home in 2020, compared to 6,220 refugees in 2019, 14,017 refugees in 2018 and 59,020 refugees in 2017. The decrease in voluntary repatriation can be attributed to the prevailing uncertainty surrounding the peace talks, escalating violence, and lack of access to basic services and livelihoods in Afghanistan, coupled with the impact of COVID-19, which resulted in the suspension of voluntary repatriation for almost six months.

Population trends

At the end of 2020, 1,435,445 registered Afghan refugees with Proof of Registration (PoR) cards were living in Pakistan. The majority – 69% – resided in urban and peri-urban areas. The remaining 31% lived in 54 refugee villages, predominantly in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces. Of the total PoR card holder population, 54% were male and 46% were female. 44% were children. Additionally, 2,987 mandate Afghan refugees (without PoR cards), 518 non-Afghan refugees (mostly Somalis) and 9,807 asylum-seekers were registered with UNHCR.

In 2020, a total number of 20,500 refugee new-borns were registered by their parents. However, UNHCR estimated that more than twice as many were likely born during the year.

In 2020, UNHCR registered 1,324 new people of concern (1,287 asylum-seekers, 31 refugees and 6 others of concern). UNHCR continued to streamline and consolidate the initial screening form process for Afghans who are not PoR cardholders. In 2020, 3,818 individuals also applied for asylum with UNHCR Pakistan.

A total of 12 vulnerable individuals were referred for third country resettlement. The cases were submitted to Australia, New Zealand and Finland. Among these submissions, five individuals were resettled. The remaining 7 were still in process.

The number of persons who are stateless or at risk of statelessness in Pakistan is yet to be determined. The majority of those who are stateless or at risk of statelessness are believed to be residing in Karachi. They belong to the Bihari, Bengali and Rohingya communities.

As of the end of 2020, there were 98,898 IDPs, as reported by the relevant Provincial Disaster Management Agency.

Key achievements

  • 75,000 vulnerable refugee families received cash assistance from UNHCR to cope with the hardships created by the COVID-19 situation.
  • Over 20,500 refugee new-borns registered.

Unmet needs

UNHCR has worked to achieve greater outreach to communities. However, cultural challenges persisted in prevention and response to gender-based violence, risk mitigation, and community coping mechanisms. Unmet needs therefore remained in the identification of behavioural change programmes that take a medium-term approach. In addition to this, unmet needs also remained in terms of community-led initiatives and data. Greater investments will be needed in 2021 and 2022 to help further develop evidence-based programming.

Furthermore, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in most refugee villages, needs relating to general waste management and disposal, including solid waste and sewerage, remained unmet. The construction of garbage collection points and the provision of waste bins could not be achieved due to the funding gap.

Due to limited funds, only the most vulnerable refugees were assisted as part of the UNHCR’s cash assistance programme. Need for additional funding remained to conduct small-scale activities for the protection of vulnerable groups, and to expand the cash assistance.

During the pandemic, the Government authorities in Balochistan requested fabricated rooms with washrooms, portable ventilators and patient monitors, as well as ambulances. However, due to limited funding, UNHCR could only address the most pressing emergency transportation needs through the provision of five ambulances in the province.

The Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) programme, a cornerstone of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees and a critical tool for enabling peaceful coexistence, inclusion and resilience-building in refugee hosting areas, was severely underfunded.

While refugee children have unhindered access to the public education system at the primary and secondary levels, major investments are needed to ensure that refugee children can attend the overstrained public schools. Large numbers were still out of school in 2020.

UNHCR’s Livelihoods Strategy laid the groundwork for building the self-reliance of young Afghans (70% of the refugee population). To create opportunities and enhance inclusion in national programmes, UNHCR continued to strengthen collaboration with the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund and the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission. However, very few refugees were able to benefit from livelihoods programming, and they depended on UNHCR to cover tuition costs.

In 2020, over 2,500 young refugees developed their technical and vocational skills as part of UNHCR-supported trainings. Advocacy and exploring support modalities with development actors and private sector will be crucial in the areas of education and livelihoods to ensure greater access to refugees.

Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding)

In 2020, Pakistan operation received some USD 18.5 million flexible funding, which enabled UNHCR to initiate the COVID-19 emergency response. This included the provision of COVID-19 related items such as personal protective equipment to the Government, implementing partners, health facilities, refugees and host community members. In particular, a significant amount of flexible funding enabled UNHCR to deliver its cash-based assistance to the most vulnerable refugees, including daily wage earners, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Working environment

 UNHCR’s ability to facilitate voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees, and to preserve protection space in Pakistan, will largely depend on the evolving situation in Afghanistan, including the outcomes of the 2019 presidential elections, the peace talks with Taliban, potential drawdown of the US and NATO forces, and the internal dialogue and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

While the Government of Pakistan took important steps to implement the 2017 Comprehensive Policy on Voluntary Repatriation and Management of Afghan Nationals, the Prime Minister called for more comprehensive, rights-based and solutions-oriented responses to the refugee situation. This progressive approach was reflected in the 2019 decision to allow Afghan refugees to open bank accounts in Pakistan. UNHCR will support the Government of Pakistan in further enhancing economic inclusion and contribution of refugees, including by enabling their access to SIM cards, driving licenses and ownership of assets.

UNHCR will support the Government of Pakistan in the implementation of its policy, including: i) the enactment of the national refugee law; ii) a more long-term and predictable extension of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards and Tripartite Agreement; iii) implementation of the flexible visa regime for PoR card holders. While UNHCR works with the Government of Pakistan to ensure that the visa regime incorporates essential protection safeguards, progress will depend on the ability of the Government of Afghanistan to start issuing Afghan passports in Pakistan.
UNHCR will seek to capitalize on the Global Compact on Refugees to advocate for greater international responsibility-sharing, with emphasis on RAHA.

Key priorities

In Pakistan, UNHCR has three strategic priorities which aim to foster gradual and stronger inclusion of UNHCR’s persons of concern into national policies, planning and service delivery.
UNHCR will continue to facilitate voluntary repatriation as the preferred (regional) durable solution for Afghan refugees; the Government of Pakistan-conceived flexible-visa regime is expected to be functioning, and resettlement will continue to be available only for the most urgent and emergency refugee cases.

UNHCR aims to work more closely with the Government of Pakistan on adoption of the national refugee law and will continue to diversify/reinforce partnerships and sensitize the authorities and communities at federal and provincial levels. It will support refugees to access asylum (including protection from refoulement), legal aid, registration and documentation. Strategic community-based protection orientation will be reinforced/refined, leading to enhanced community resilience and further consolidated UNHCR field presence/outreach in both refugee and host communities. A stronger focus on SGBV, child protection and people with specific needs will prevent/reduce protection risks and improve quality of response. The drive to bring refugees closer to the existing services (i.e. health and education) will remain a priority next to livelihoods and skill building interventions. UNHCR will also deepen its advocacy engagement with the Government of Pakistan on protection/prevention actions and on Pakistan’s accession to the statelessness conventions.

UNHCR will continue to reinforce and diversify its links and partnerships with the Government, civil society, the UN, academia, traditional and non-traditional donors and the private sector, as well as refugee and hosting communities in order to foster operational synergies essential to link refugee protection, assistance and solutions work in the spirit of the regional SSAR and the Global Compact on Refugees.

Latest contributions
  • 15-OCT-2021

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