Pakistan’s Expulsion of Afghans Threatens Centuries of Shared History

As the government accelerates deportations, Afghan refugees speak out on the loss of home, culture, and community.

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Afghan refugees wait in a queue to cross the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Torkham on October 27, 2023 (ABDUL MAJEED/AFP via Getty Images)

Ayesha Le Breton


November 20, 2023


10 min

Obaid*, whose family fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan and has chosen to remain anonymous out of fear of repercussions, still remembers Shamshatoo refugee camp, situated southeast of Peshawar, Pakistan, fondly. “The camp provided a semblance of stability during challenging times,” he said. He remembers a vibrant community where residents and nearby Pakistani villagers would come together and eat as they celebrated Eid and weddings.

One of the dishes both Afghans and Pakistanis couldn’t get enough of? Kabuli pulao, Obaid* said, a traditional Afghan rice dish cooked with meat. “This dish became renowned with Pakistanis attending Afghan weddings,” he said. “It served a cultural bridge, bringing people together through the shared experience of food.”

For over 40 years, Afghans have faced dispossession, foreign invasions, civil war, and insurgency. They are the third largest displaced population globally, with at least 8.2 million people across 103 countries, including Pakistan — home to the most Afghan refugees in the world. So when the Pakistani government set a November 1 deadline for all undocumented refugees to leave, it disproportionately impacted the 3.7-million strong Afghan community in the country. For many Afghans, Pakistan is, and always will be, home. As hundreds of thousands leave out of fear of deportation and arrest, they say the loss of culture and community is unfathomable.

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