The substantial population movements of refugees and displaced people from neighbouring countries have dominated recent migration to Pakistan. Since the late 1970s, Pakistan has been a host country for millions of refugees and some 1.7 million still reside in the country. The majority of refugees fled from conflict and political instability in Afghanistan, with over 50 per cent of the total number of Afghan refugees first arriving in 1979 and 1980 (see figure 2).

While the socio-political and security situation in Pakistan can be unstable, the comparative stability, social services and education provided in camps run by United Nations organizations and non-governmental organizations remains a pull factor for refugees and other asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan. Recognition rates for asylum seekers from Afghanistan in Pakistan have been high, reaching 80 per cent in 2009 (UNHCR no date).

The continued presence of more than a million refugees from Afghanistan in the country has put stress on the labour market in Pakistan. The flow of international aid directed at refugee support has gradually diminished, and this has prompted Afghans to head to the urban areas to seek employment. Afghans residing in Pakistan, either as refugees or in a refugee-like situation, commonly work as low-skilled labourers in such areas as construction, waste collection and recycling, and in other sectors that utilize physically demanding labour. These workers are often willing to work for lower wages than Pakistanis, which leads to claims by some Pakistani job seekers that wage levels are being depressed (Margesson 2007).

The repatriation of refugees from Afghanistan presents a challenge because a substantial number of them were born in Pakistan while others have been living there for more than two and a half decades (Margesson 2007).

Pakistan is a transit route for migrants heading to the Islamic Republic of Iran, GCC countries and Europe. In particular, Karachi is one of the prime transit cities in South Asia as it has a vital market for irregular migration (European Union AENEAS Programme 2009).

Also of note, China’s growing interest in Pakistan has seen an increase in migration from China to Pakistan. The number of Chinese labourers surged from only 3,000 in 2008 to 10,000 in 2009. These labourers work on 120 projects in different sectors of the economy (Fazl-e-Haider 2009).