Pakistan’s “Invisible Refugees”

The NYT has an interesting piece on “invisible refugees” in Pakistan, Pashtun families who’ve fled south to escape the fighting between Pakistani forces and militants. They’re “invisible” because instead of taking refuge in camps, they’re turning to their fellow Pashtun for support. The result is families of 10, 20, 40 and more cramped into unbelievably tight quarters, sometimes displacing their own hosts, and stretching the limits of both Pashtun hospitality and local infrastructure: 

Pakistan is experiencing its worst refugee crisis since partition from India in 1947, and while the world may be familiar with the tent camps that have rolled out like carpets since its operation against the Taliban started in April, the overwhelming majority of the nearly three million people who have fled live unseen in houses and schools, according to aid agencies.

They are the invisible refugees, and their numbers have swollen the populations of towns like this one northwest of the capital, Islamabad, multiplying burdens on already sagging roads, schools, sewers and water supplies, and, not least, on their host families.

I remember reading somewhere about Pashtun waging economic warfare on their own by resorting to squatting – taking advantage of codes of hospitality, essentially, thereby placing an untenable burden on their hosts. This is obviously different, but it’s also the same. The portrait it draws suggests – or at least insinuates – a point of cultural collapse and adaptation. I’ll probably get in trouble for a comment like that, but I’m curious what the experts have to say about it.

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