The South Asia Region

Delhi, India | Islamabad, Pakistan | Jalalabad, Afghanistan

Most of the national borders of South Asia were only clearly delineated in the second half of the 20th century, and several of these borders remain porous in practice today. This includes the border between northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan that has featured large, unencumbered cross-border flows of people for centuries. Most recently, since 2001 hundreds of thousands of Afghans have fled to northwestern Pakistan seeking protection from political violence.

As the conflict in the region has ebbed and flowed, many of these migrants have moved back and forth across the border. Others continued onward, seeking better job and educational opportunities in India’s major cities like Delhi. Here, they joined other refugees and economic migrants from Nepal, Bhutan, and southern China, as well as urbanizing Indians from across the country. Only a very small number of these refugees are ever registered with UNHCR and resettled elsewhere.

Our RIT cases give a unique local perspective on Afghanistan-Pakistan-India refugee migration. Our case in Islamabad is the first step in the journey, exploring how Afghan refugees have both succeeded and struggled with integration in a large city. From Islamabad, Afghan refugees may return home, or continue onward. Our Jalalabad case explores return migration, looking at returnees’ struggles with reintegration, particularly with claims to land ownership. Our Delhi case explores onward migration, looking at the ways a vast diversity of migrant populations have transformed neighborhoods of the city, and presents the ways that they make this new place feel like home through cooking.