4: Warriors of Self-Reliance: Refugee Self-Reliance Assistance in Cold War Pakistan

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This chapter demonstrates the dynamism of self-reliance as both a concept and a practice. In the 1980s, UNHCR’s biggest operation was for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and was largely focused on self-reliance and livelihoods. Contributing (at least in theory) to host country development, refugees served as ‘development pawns’ for Pakistan and donor countries alike, illustrating a broader trend of host countries seeking development and aid funding due to hosting refugees. Donor countries utilized funding for refugees as a means to fight Communism and incentivize the restructuring of Southern economies. This chapter presents four phases of self-reliance assistance for Afghan refugees, which correspond to shifts in broader economic trends from Keynesian economics to neoliberalism. The practice of self-reliance assistance promoted large-scale employment, individual income generation, and ultimately acted as a protective mechanism for vulnerable populations unable to succeed in the market-based economy. These stages of self-reliance assistance encompass periods of humanitarian and development programming focused on so-called ‘refugee dependency syndrome’ and self-reliance as psychosocial support.

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