‘If young people are uprooted from their environment, it is a strain on them’

Five questions for Tobias Becker, GIZ Country Director in Pakistan, on the situation facing Afghan refugees, changes, and future challenges. 


Pakistan has been taking in refugees from Afghanistan for more than forty years. More than half of the world’s registered refugees from Afghanistan live in Pakistan. According to official figures there are 1.4 million people, and it is estimated that a further one million people live in the country unofficially. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is supporting Pakistan’s Government and the host communities to ensure a peaceful coexistence.

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Mr Becker, what do people who have fled their homes in Afghanistan for Pakistan need?

Clean water, for instance. And we always factor in the host community – the people who already live in an area. When refugees arrive, the demands on the infrastructure increase. In 2020 alone, we set up water supplies for 24,500 people. That helps to reduce tensions between the host communities and refugees over water, which is a scarce resource. But water supplies are just one aspect of a bigger picture. For example, we also advise provincial governments on how to improve access to schools and health facilities for Afghan refugees. 

What is important to consider?

It’s a good idea to design measures to ensure that both groups benefit – the refugees and the host communities. After all, there is no difference in the education and health care services that are needed, from ante-natal and obstetric care for pregnant women to assistance with injuries and chronic diseases. An inspiring example for me is an Afghan doctor who has lived in Pakistan for 22 years. She treats Afghan and Pakistani children suffering from the inherited blood disorder thalassemia.

GIZ Pakistan RMSP (Taraqee) - IWRM, Two Men and Well, Loralai, Baluchistan, 2019

Are there also differences in the way you work with refugees and with the local population?

When young people are uprooted from their environment and grow up in a country they don’t know, it is a strain on them. The same applies to young people who are born here and don’t know if and when their families will be able to return to Afghanistan. That is why our mental health work focuses on refugees. It is much more difficult for them to get an education and to train or study later, which makes it all the more important that they get mental health support. We primarily do this work through sports events and protected spaces where women in particular can talk in safe and comfortable surroundings. They can get support to help them deal with things that are weighing them down. Along with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, we also offer vocational training opportunities.

What changes have you seen over the last few years?

The responsible Pakistan ministry and UNHCR have observed that people no longer stay in the districts close to border crossing points or in refugee villages. They go to cities like Quetta, Peshawar, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. That is why we are helping the ministry set up contact points for Afghan refugees in these cities, known as Urban Cohesion Hubs. The staff include legal advisors and male and female psychologists, for example. They provide support in one-on-one discussions and group meetings and advise people on their civil rights and on matters like child protection and gender-based and domestic violence. During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular this psychological counselling was helpful for them. But the hubs also offer education and training opportunities, with literacy, computer and English courses. And here too we come full circle - when an Afghan musician who has fled his home now gives music lessons to children and young people.

GIZ Pakistan RMSP (WESS) - Community Initiative Fund, IT Hub, Quetta, Baluchistan, 2020

Since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, many people expect the number of Afghans fleeing to Pakistan to rise. Will GIZ therefore be expanding its activities? 

All relevant organisations are preparing for rising numbers of refugees. We have been working with the Pakistan Government since 2009 on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Federal Foreign Office. In consultation with our clients, we are looking at how we can adapt or expand our activities, including those that were previously not designed specifically for refugees. In areas like social welfare, vocational education, sanitation and hygiene we have the experience and the structures in place in Pakistan that will allow us to provide rapid support. We don’t need to build things from scratch.

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