The Uncertain Future of Female Hazara Refugees, But A Leap of Faith

Afghan Hazara girls have made uncountable efforts to reach milestone success, and do wonders, be it in sports, education, recreational activities. But there has been uncertain future of Hazara youth, especially female Hazara refugees which is interconnected with the history of political violence, conflicts that has lead to their marginalization.

The first wave of Hazara migration from Afghanistan to Pakistan happened approximately 150 years ago, in the 1880s, due to persecution under King Abdur Rehman (European Asylum Support Office, 2015). The second wave of migration to Pakistan occurred during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, and the third phase occurred in 1996 when the Taliban took control (National Commission for Human Rights, 2018). They initially stayed in mosques in Quetta, then moved to homes with the help of local Hazaras who had arrived in Balochistan as early as the late nineteenth century.  The migrants’ local networks enabled them to avoid refugee camps entirely. Some Afghans utilize Hazara Town as a transit on their way to Iran.

Up to 70,000 people live in Hazara Town, a lower-to-middle-income ghettoized neighborhood in the outskirt of Quetta, with an estimated third of them being Hazara Afghans. Other Afghans are significantly involved in local trade and business in Hazara Town and beyond.

Hazara has been subjugated to sectarian violence and target killing in the past, and being a refugee intensifies the trauma. The human toll of the systematic attacks is one side of the tragedy, and the psychological impact is another. According to Saeeda Battol Mphil, Scholar in Peace and Conflict Studies, “The perpetrators have waged a psychological war against the community”.  According to UNCHR, more than 30% of individuals who have come to Pakistan are estimated to be the Hazara ethnic group in 2021. Pakistan presently has more than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, with an additional two million people perhaps residing there without legal documentation.

The Hazara population is comparatively more educated than other Afghan communities, and there are several schools, computer centers, and language centers in Hazara Town. There are also middle school for both boys and girls. In Hazara town, there are many private schools (Hazargi or English medium) with co-education at kindergarten, primary, middle, and high school. There are also some schools in operation with Iranian assistance. There are also home-based skill centers and many madrassas for women. According to reports, many Hazara graduates of Shuhada educational institutes are reported to have returned to Afghanistan.

Recently International Center for Refugees and Migration Studies initiated the exposure visit at BUITEMS following the career Counselling Session at the Pamir High School and Rabia Balkhi High School in Hazara town. The majority were girls, and their hopes seemed revived when they got the opportunity to have an exposure visit. I also interviewed some girls.

Simrin, a refugee girl studying at Rabia Balkhi High School, told me that “as a Hazara, and then also as a refugee, life has been very unpredictable for me, but my dreams have remained consistent despite all the odds .”She said that “I have always been a studious and smart kid in my studies, but now I am done with my 12th grade and somewhat I feel helpless. Often, girls pursue to become teachers in the academy or some Hazara refugees prefer to stay indoors and learn carpet weaving, sewing, learn course of beautician  after completing 12th grade.  We cannot do any other formal job as we don’t have legal status but we don’t believe that it is our fault. I went to Afghanistan in 2020 but had to return to Pakistan when the socioeconomic conditions started deteriorating. But I am still hopeful now that I can achieve my goals.”

It is however evident that, Hazara refugee girls who have been at the forefront always to study with diligent passion, learn recreational activities also thus face many stumbling blocks to pursue their higher education, and more alienation, feeling sense of being outcast because of their identity.

Another Hazara refugee girl whose name was Nasreen told that “I have been confined to Hazaratown all my life, I have not seen Quetta beyond that. When Hazara target killings were on peak, we were not even allowed to go anywhere at all, so I stayed indoors. I used to feel the trauma that if I would be safe here or not as well. My family is progressive, but I am still afraid of the society when I step out of home, especially as a girl its very challenging. I get anxious about how people would judge me in the society”. She reminisced that “I miss my homeplace in Afghanistan, I want to see the world, and enjoy it”. When she was asked about her goals in life she wants to achieve, she told that “I am very hopeful that I will do something in great in my life, I want to pursue my higher education and help my community.”

Most of the refugees also reiterated that they are not POR card holders and face many challenges. They demanded to be facilitated by the UNHCR to sensitize refugees on PoR and documentation processes. Hazara girls claimed that even if they are allowed to study but have very restricted social mobility and are confined within the ghettos due to heightened insecurity. Integrating Hazara female refugees into society can be a complex process, but it is essential to identify their obstacles, and collectively reshape their lives. Female Hazara refugees have been facing acute protection problems, and to exercise their basic inalienable rights. They also have limited social opportunities due to the unpredictable volatile environment of Quetta, and cannot overcome their identity crisis. Refugee women who lack the support of family and traditional social structure are particularly more vulnerable and social isolation can be a significant challenge for female Hazara refugees.

It is also pertinent that host communities should also be made cognizant of the refugees’ dynamics, to build a mutual trust between the host and refugee communities.  At the grassroot level, by connecting female refugees with support networks and providing vocational training, we can also help female refugees build their skills, find meaningful life ahead in their future, and feel a sense of belonging simultaneously. The way forward for integrating refugee women who are subject to intersectional violence should be to increase the capacity-building initiatives to improve girls’ documentation processes, valuable protection tools, and source of security against exploitation, abuse.


Reporting Assistant at ICRMS

Researcher in the areas of Gender, Development and Refugees/Migration.


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