Sanaa Alimia, "Refugee Cities: How Afghans Changed Urban Pakistan" (U Pennsylvania Press, 2022)


Situated between the 1970s Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan and the post-2001 War on Terror, Refugee Cities: How Afghans Changed Urban Pakistan (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022) tells the story of how global wars affect everyday life for Afghans who have been living as refugees in Pakistan. In this thoughtful and extensively researched work, Dr. Sanaa Alimia provides a necessary glimpse of what ordinary life looks like for a long-term refugee population, beyond the headlines of war, terror, or helpless suffering. Refugee Cities reconstructs local micro-histories to chronicle the lives of ordinary people living in low-income neighborhoods in Peshawar and Karachi and the ways in which they have transformed the cities of which they are a part. It also increases our understanding of how cities— rather than the nation—are important sites of identity-making for people of migrant origins. At the same time, the book also makes an important intervention through its documentation of the multiple displacements that migrants are subject to, and the increased normalization of deportation as a part of “refugee management.”

In this episode, Tayeba Batool talks to Dr. Sanaa Alimia about her journey in writing this book and how the book makes spaces for voices that are often ignored and de-centered to understand everyday life for Afghan migrants in Pakistan. The conversation also addresses questions of racialization, identity, and place-making for the Afghan refugee population in Karachi and Peshawar. We hear from Dr. Alimia why it is important to locate a "history from below" approach to understand the injustices and limitations faced by multiple generations of Afghan migrants in Pakistan, and how their struggles to remain in the cities they built brings new insights to understand the rights of migrant populations.

Dr. Sanaa Alimia is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations, Aga Khan University. Tayeba Batool is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Tayeba Batool is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Tayeba Batool

Tayeba Batool is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania

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