Pakistan has an extensive institutional architecture mandated with migration management. However, this institutional setup is almost purely concerned with emigration from Pakistan with a focus on encouraging and regulating labour migration from Pakistan, catering to the welfare needs of Overseas Pakistanis, and devising strategies on drawing nationally oriented benefits from the Pakistani Diaspora (Qaisrani, 2020). Almost overlooked in the institutional and policy approach towards migration in Pakistan is the issue of immigration. While special provisions, institutions and policy approaches exist for the management of Afghan refugees, a glaring gap exists in the mainstreaming of these mechanisms in the overall national planning. This is a key lacuna that needs instant political and institutional focus as more than 1.4 million registered Afghans refugees (in addition to an estimated 1.5 million unregistered Afghan refugees), along with about 300,000 Burmese and Bengali migrants, and 300 Rohingya Muslims reside in various urban areas of Pakistan (Shah et al., 2020). In addition, as per UNHCR’s estimates of 2020, there were about 181 refugees from Somalia, 341 other refugees, and 9,717 asylum seekers in Pakistan (UNHCR, 2020).
Despite these numbers, immigration of individuals entering Pakistan for asylum or other purposes, as well as refugee management has largely been overlooked through a deliberate policy stance. The Government of Pakistan has not adopted a holistic perspective to manage these inflows towards Pakistan through an inclusive policy planning. As the following sections will show, immigrants and refugees in Pakistan navigate through a complex policy landscape, with profound impact on their everyday socioeconomic lives in Pakistan. This purposive “policy of having no policy” for refugee management in Pakistan not only reflects turning a blind eye to the presence of a huge immigrant population, but also holds back from recognising and mobilising these population groups for the national development goals of Pakistan. Pakistan does not exist in a political vacuum, and thus, it is likely to experience influxes of people from not only the neighbouring countries, but also other regions in view of the geopolitical developments around the world. Therefore, having a “no policy” approach towards immigration in general, and refugee management in particular is not the most optimal choice