Born and Raised in Pakistan, but Living in Legal Limbo

Madad Ali, a young Afghan who works in software development in Pakistan, says he goes to the beach “to overcome depression.” 

Pakistan has refused to grant the children of Afghan refugees full rights as citizens. A lack of identification documents limits their livelihoods and puts them at risk of deportation.

KARACHI, Pakistan — For these four young people, Pakistan is home. They were born and raised there. They have big plans: to study, to open their own businesses, to succeed.

But Pakistan says their home is elsewhere. Each of the four — a lab technician, a web developer, a jewelry maker, a former welder with dreams of travel — was born to parents from Afghanistan who fled to Pakistan because of war and persecution.

The children have been in legal limbo all their lives, at risk of deportation to a strife-torn country they have never seen.

Some live in Al-Asif Square, a neighborhood of low-slung, barrackslike apartment buildings on the outskirts of the port city of Karachi, where the refugee population is often blamed for high crime rates and gang violence. With their vulnerable legal status, opportunity is hard to come by.

Pakistan is home to an estimated hundreds of thousands of children of Afghan refugees. Without official recognition or citizenship, they cannot attend most schools or universities, get many jobs or buy property or cars.

Muhammad Saleem, 24, a lab technician, does not have documentation, so no medical school will admit him.

His lack of documents also means he earns about one-quarter of the market rate for lab technicians, or $85 a month.

“Unfortunately, I could not fulfill the dream of my parents of becoming a doctor,” he said.

While Pakistani law grants citizenship to those born there, the government has long refused to recognize the claims of children of Afghans amid public pressure to stem the tide of refugees from Afghanistan. Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan introduced an alien registration card system that would allow Afghans and their locally born children to start businesses — but it would still deny them full legal rights, human rights groups warn.

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