Refugees in South Asia

While refugees in South Asian countries nowhere constitute a cohesive social group (with the possible exception of some groups from Afghanistan in western Pakistan), they are so numerous at the present time (1991) that an outline of their demography is appropriate in this volume. Three South Asian countries hold a total of about 4,085,800 refugees today, of whom only 293,000 are native to the region. Most do not live in formal refugee camps, but many do benefit, if only a little, from funds that have been funneled to them from Western nations and food provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The countries of origin of refugees, estimates of their Current numbers in each host country, and the main reason for their flight to that country are listed in the following table.

Host Country Origin Number Reason for Flight
India Sri Lanka 228,000 civil war between Sinhalese and secessionist Tamils
India Tibet (China) 100,000 repression of Tibetan culture and religion by occupying Chinese forces
India Bangladesh 65,000 mainly Biharis
India Afghanistan 11,100 anticommunist freedom fighters (Mujaheddin)
India Myanmar (Burma) 800 opponents of the military dictatorship
India elsewhere 900  
Nepal Tibet (China) 14,000 repression of Tibetan culture and religion by occupying Chinese forces
Pakistan Afghanistan 3,666,000 anticommunist freedom fighters (Mujaheddin)
Pakistan Iran 1,100 opponents of the fundamentalist Islamic government
Pakistan Iraq 1,700 opponents of the Ba'ath government

To put these figures into perspective, we might add that although South Asia contains 23 percent of the world's population, it currently holds less than 10 percent of the world's refugees. Africa remains the region of biggest refugee movements across national boundaries at this time.

See also Tamil of Sri Lanka


Smyser, W. R. (1991). "New Priorities in Refugee Care." The World and I 6:142-149.


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