Afghans in the United Kingdom

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British Afghans
Total population
Afghan-born residents
14,875 (2001 Census figure)
76,000 (2015 ONS estimate)
Regions with significant populations
Greater London
West Midlands
British English, Dari, Pashto and various other languages of Afghanistan
with Sikh and Hindu as minority

British Afghans are British citizens and non-citizen residents born in, or with ancestors from, Afghanistan. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that there were 76,000 Afghans living in the UK in 2015.


Historical migration[edit]

The first Afghan immigrants to the British capital were students, businesspeople and Afghan government officials. It wasn't until years later that significant numbers came in the form of refugees.[1] The first large wave of Afghan immigrants to the UK were political refugees fleeing the 1980s communist regime and numerous others came in the early 1990s escaping Mujahideen. The number skyrocketed later that decade due to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.[1]

Some British Afghans may have probably come from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of British India before the declaration of Pakistan, as such subsequent people from NWFP became recognised as Pakistanis.

Refugees of war and asylum policies[edit]

As stated earlier, one of the large flows of Afghans to the UK was caused by refugees fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power. The country has been in a state of political unrest ever since. Despite the flow of immigrants and refugees remaining fairly stable over the new millennium period, the number of Afghans coming to the UK since the mid-2000s has completely eclipsed the recorded number of Afghans in the 2001 census, as more and more are fleeing the threat of violence and even death in their homeland during the War in Afghanistan.[1] In 2003, the British government announced that they would begin enforced repatriation of failed asylum-seekers in April. This marked a break from the previous policy, observed continuously since 1978, of not returning any Afghans to their country of origin whether or not they were deemed to be economic migrants. At the time, roughly 700 Afghans applied for asylum in the United Kingdom each month, making them one of the largest group of asylum-seekers along with Iraqis.[2]


The 2001 UK Census recorded 14,875 Afghan-born people residing in the UK.[3][4] The Office for National Statistics estimates that, by 2015, the Afghan-born population had risen to 76,000.[5]

A number of unofficial population estimates have been made. Ethnologue estimates that there are 75,000 native Northern Pashto speakers in the UK, although these may comprise persons of other nationalities as well as Afghans.[6] The number of Pashtuns in the UK is estimated at 100,000 (the largest community of Pashtuns in the Western World) and the majority of Afghan Muslims in the UK are of Pashtun origin, although Pashtuns also originate in parts of Pakistan.[7] Other sources have put the Afghan population in London alone at 45,000[8] and 56,000.[9] whilst the Afghan Association of London estimates that the population of Afghans in the whole UK stands at 70,000.[9] The International Organization for Migration conducted a mapping exercise in 2006, suggesting that the Afghan population of the UK was 20,000.[10]

Between 1994 and 2006, around 36,000 Afghans claimed asylum in the UK.[11] Many whose claims were refused have not returned to Afghanistan, although the International Organization for Migration has helped some voluntarily return.[11] 5,540 Afghan nationals were granted British citizenship in 2008, down from 10,555 in 2007.[12]

Most Afghans in the UK follow Sunni Islam although there is a significant number of Shias.[13] There are also minority of Sikh and Hindu Afghans in the Greater London area.[14][15][16] In addition, there is a small Afghan Jewish community in London with a synagogue.[citation needed] One study of Afghan Muslims in England suggests that the majority are of Pashtun ancestry.[13] Overall, there are thought to be up to 100,000 Pashtuns in the UK, forming the largest community of Pashtuns in the West, however most are of Pakistani Pashtun heritage.[17]

Most Pashtuns who originate from Afghanistan use Pashto in addition to English, with Dari (Afghan Persian) as a third language. Tajiks use Persian while Hazaras use Hazaragi, although some Tajiks and Hazaras are also fluent in Pashto. Pashto and Dari are both the official languages of Afghanistan.[13]


At the 2001 census, about 70% of Afghans lived in the capital.[18] They are mainly distributed in northwestern areas. At the 2011 census, there were 37,680 Afghan-born residents living in the region. Hounslow leads with 4,463 residents, followed by Brent (3,698), Harrow (3,314) and Barnet (3,234). The least-three are Bromley (115), Bexley (109) and Havering (53).[19]

Districts with significant populations include: central and western areas of Brent, western areas of Barnet, southern areas of Harrow and western areas of Ealing, which includes Southall. Smaller communities are found in the southwest and the northeast.

The West Midlands has the second largest number of Afghans, with the larger communities in Birmingham (second highest city in the country), Coventry and Wolverhampton, and minor communities in Walsall.

The six cities after London and Birmingham in terms of Afghan population are Manchester, Leicester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Southampton, Sheffield and Nottingham. Other cities with notable Afghan communities include Cardiff, Brighton, Bradford, Leeds, Peterborough, Stockport and Bolton.

In 2001 the single largest Afghan community in the UK was West Southall, where 1,121 Afghan-born people and many more of Afghan descent live. The locations with the fewest Afghan-born residents are Northern Ireland and Wales, which as subdivisions are estimated to have no greater than 100 Afghan residents each.[3]


Religion Percentage of British Afghans population in England and Wales[20]
Star and Crescent.svg Islam 80.32%
Khanda.svg Sikhism 11.0%
Not stated 3.98%
Om.svg Hinduism 2.29%
No Religion 1.65%
Gold Christian Cross no Red.svg Christianity 1.00%
Total 100%

Notable individuals[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "In Search Of Afghan History In London", Diversity News Page, 31 May 2006, archived from the original on 30 September 2008, retrieved 28 July 2009
  2. ^ Goodchild, Sophie (2 March 2003), "Britain to repatriate Afghan refugees", The Independent, London, retrieved 22 July 2009
  3. ^ a b "Born Abroad: Afghanistan", BBC News, 7 September 2005, retrieved 22 July 2009
  4. ^ Country-of-birth database, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, archived from the original on 25 April 2007, retrieved 9 December 2008
  5. ^ "Table 1.3: Overseas-born population in the United Kingdom, excluding some residents in communal establishments, by sex, by country of birth, January 2015 to December 2015". Office for National Statistics. 25 August 2016. Retrieved 28 April 2017. Figure given is the central estimate. See the source for 95% confidence intervals.
  6. ^ Lewis, M. Paul, ed. (2009), "Ethnologue report for the United Kingdom", Ethnologue: Languages of the World (16th ed.), Dallas, Texas: SIL International, retrieved 22 July 2009
  7. ^ MacLean, William (10 June 2009). "FEATURE-Support for Taliban dives among British Pashtuns". Reuters.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 September 2008. Retrieved 28 July 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ a b Afghan Association of London, Refugee Stories, archived from the original on 17 July 2009, retrieved 28 July 2009
  10. ^ "Afghanistan: Mapping exercise" (PDF). London: International Organization for Migration. February 2007. Retrieved 4 July 2010.
  11. ^ a b Casciani, Dominic (8 December 2006), Afghans resisting leaving UK, BBC News, retrieved 8 November 2009
  12. ^ Danzelman, Philip (20 May 2009), "British Citizenship Statistics: United Kingdom, 2008" (PDF), Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Home Office, archived from the original (PDF) on 12 November 2009, retrieved 8 November 2009
  13. ^ a b c Change Institute (April 2009). "The Afghan Muslim Community in England: Understanding Muslim Ethnic Communities" (PDF). Department for Communities and Local Government. p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 March 2012. Retrieved 16 July 2009.
  14. ^ The History and Current Position of Afghanistan's Hindu and Sikh Population (PDF), Centre for Applied South Asian Studies, retrieved 24 December 2014
  15. ^ British Sikh Report "An Insight Into The British Sikh Community" (PDF), British Sikh Report, retrieved 24 December 2014
  16. ^ London's Little Afghanistan, The Guardian, retrieved 24 December 2014
  17. ^ Maclean, William (10 June 2009). "Support for Taliban dives among British Pashtuns". Reuters. Retrieved 16 July 2009.
  18. ^ The Afghan Muslim Community in England: Understanding Muslim Ethnic Communities, United Kingdom: Department of Communities and Local Government, April 2009, ISBN 978-1-4098-1165-7, archived from the original on 10 May 2009, retrieved 22 July 2009
  19. ^ CT0048 – Country of Birth (Detailed)
  20. ^ "Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations | US news". The Guardian. 9 June 2013. Retrieved 6 March 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]