Pakistan's stepchildren

Pakistan's stepchildren

Organisation: Dawn Media Group (Pakistan)

Publication Date: 04/03/2017

Size of team/newsroom:small


As per IMF data approximately 700,000 registered Afghan refugees returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2016. Among these were young adults who were born in Pakistan and consider it home, mothers who came to Pakistan seeking healthcare for their ailing children, and husbands forced to go to Afghanistan leaving their families behind. One of the individuals sent out of Pakistan was Sharbat Gula, or as the world more popularly knows her, National Geographic's ‘Aghan girl’. Her crime: An illegal attempt to obtain an ID card that would allow her to be a citizen of Pakistan, the country that has been her home longer than Afghanistan. sought to explore the stories which are often hidden behind the numbers and statistics. Seven reporters from around Pakistan brought these accounts together. They illustrated how arrests, forced payment of bribes, violence, harassment and intimidation are everyday features of Afghans living in Pakistan. The project was published in late January 2017, when US President Trump had just taken office and a global conversation was underway about the refugee crisis — a concern that indeed remains relevant. We found it pertinent to discuss the Afghan refugees and migrants in Pakistan and their (often involuntarily) repatriation. As Pakistanis criticised the treatment of refugees and migrants in the West, the project — targeted primarily at a Pakistani readership — sought to make readers reassess their own attitudes towards Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

Timing was paramount for this project. At a time when the treatment of refugees was being hotly debated at a global level, our project aimed to spark a conversation about Afghans refugees and migrants in Pakistan, without explicitly making the connection. Many readers drew parallels themselves, "While criticizing Trump's recent policy towards immigrants and refugees, we loved what Pakistan was doing to its Afghan refugees..." said a reader, Salwa Hakam, further noting that, the double standard is 'saddening'. We used numbers to give clear snapshots of the gravity of the situation. Number boxes and infographics were also used to keep the readers engaged. To compliment the written word, we made use of intimate portraits and visuals, including using gifs and a video on social media. 'Pakistan's stepchildren' had an instant reaction. A lawyer associated with Human Rights Watch in Pakistan wrote to's editors praising the project. Several other notable academics and opinion-makers tweeted about it. It was shared extensively across social media platforms. Days after the story was published, readers continued to send the desk and reporters feedback; with an overwhelming majority lauding the project. The project was also translated and published on Dawn's Urdu website ( This allowed it to become more accessible to a larger readership. While it would be unfair to assume the project played a part, a week after the story was published, an extension was granted in the stay of refugees in Pakistan till December 31, 2017 — the deadline previously stood at March 2017.

Technologies used for this project:

Final Cut Pro was used to put together the video and gifs. The infographics were designed using the online data visualisation platform, Infogram. A special layout was designed for the project, and our programmers developed the story to give it a distinctive look setting it aside from's other stories.


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