Accessing Education for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan

I spent the spring of my life in autumn

I saw the dawn of life on the eve of death.

Away from relatives and friends in a forlorn land.

Finally, in this exile, I embrace death.

– Jamila Abbasi, ‘The Pain of Immigration’

Education is a key issue for refugees everywhere, and Pakistan is no exception. Pakistan hosts around 2.5 million Afghan refugees – at least – and the number is growing. Writing for The New York Times in November, Zia ur-Rehman reported the country houses one of the world’s largest populations of refugees, that local resentment is growing, and that the government feared possible outlay of $2.2 billion or more to support for an additional 700,000.

Theoretically it should be OK: Pakistan’s law confers citizenship on those born there. However, Afghan children’s citizen rights are rarely recognised, both at primary and secondary levels. Rida Tahir notes that while 44% of its 5-16 age group do not attend school, that was the case for 80% of refugee children. Her blog focuses on the difficulties of Afghan children in accessing secondary education. In Karachi, in 2012, the Board of Secondary Education (BSEK), insisted that pupils possess identity paper called the Child Registration Certificate, Since refugee children can only obtain Proof of Registration (PoR) cards, they are effectively blocked from secondary education.

There are many attempts to support these children and enable them to have some kind of future. One of these is the writer and educationalist, Jamila Abbasi, who has established 4 schools in Quetta, Pakistan. Ms Abbasi is herself a refugee who fled the first Taliban take over in Afghanistan.

The four schools she established cover all ages and her pupils are fiercely committed.

Jamila’s care and support are the mark of her own commitment to others but in the light of what is happening in Afghanistan there needs to be far more co-ordinated work to rescue these children’s futures. Tahir argues that ‘international treaties do not accept discrimination on the basis of a child’s status as a refugee. Pakistan’s ratification of the these treaties has created legally binding and enforceable obligations on the State under international law.’ But she recognises the problems of a country reeling under a growing influx of desperate people and notes that ‘the international community should support Pakistan in its educational reforms’.

The latest Afghanistan situation report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees highlights the fear that drives them out. Despite many being undocumented: ‘the majority of Afghan new arrivals approaching UNHCR in Pakistan and Iran…report leaving Afghanistan for security-related reasons.’ They are understandably reluctant to go back unless the security improves. This being the case the risk of a long term population of disaffected, uneducated and displaced people growing up without a future is that they will be unable to contribute to the country within which they find themselves, and they will become the targets of extreme groups.

Providing education is essential to avoid this and Jamila’s small schools are her way of trying to what she can to support her country’s children.


Hashim, Asad,’ Thousands of Afghans seeking refuge in regional countries: UNHCR’, Al Jazeera

Tahir, Rida, “Pakistan: Discriminatory rules preclude Afghan refugee children from attaining secondary education”, (OxHRH Blog, Sept 2020), [accessed 15/12/2021].

ur-Rehman, Zia, ‘Afghans Flee to Pakistan. An Uncertain Future Awaits’, New York Times (Pub. 8/9/2021 Updated 1/11/2021) [accessed 15/12/2021].

UNHCR Pakistan: New Arrivals from Afghanistan Update (13 December 2021) [accessed 15/12/2021].