Pakistan crackdowns on Afghan refugees: Women, children behind bars in Karachi

Pakistani forces. Screenshot from Reuters video. FILE PHOTO

Pakistan has conducted many crackdowns on refugees from Afghanistan with no legal stay documents with 183 men arrested in Rawalpindi for alleged criminal activities, while women and children were jailed in Karachi.

At least 1,200 Afghan nationals, who had entered Karachi without valid travel documents, were detained by Pakistani police in multiple raids.

On Dec. 28, 2022, reports indicated that Afghan women incarcerated in Karachi’s Landhi jail were brought to the city court, where they were locked up inside the Bakshi Khana. These women were accompanied by a large number of children, human rights activists said.

Photos of some Afghan children crammed into a cell of the central jail in Karachi went viral on social media, drawing appeals for their release along with their parents.

Pakistan’s National Commission on Human Rights on Friday said that at least 139 Afghan women and 165 children are among those being held at a high-security jail in the southern port city.

Quoted by Dawn News, Pakistani officials in Sindh said on Friday, Dec. 29, that 129 “Afghan female illegal immigrants” were jailed in the province, with 178 children.

The report by the human rights panel showed that out of the 139 Afghan women incarcerated in the women’s wing of Karachi Central Jail, 56 have been sentenced and 83 are undergoing trial. Out of the 165 children, 111 aged between 10 and 13 are in the child prison. Out of them, 92 have been sentenced and 19 are undergoing trial.

The arrests brought criticism from around Afghanistan after images of locked-up Afghan children were widely shared on social media. Former president Hamid Karzai condemned the treatment of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and asked the Pakistani government to treat the refugees humanely.

Reports indicate that lawyers who help such detainees, there were some pregnant Afghan women who fled Afghanistan to seek medical treatment and for other reasons.

They are detained in Karachi and elsewhere in Sindh province, according to reports. A detainee even gave birth to a child in the Hyderabad jail, reports said.

The lawyers said dozens of Afghans were deported to Afghanistan last month after completing their sentences, usually up to two months.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have left the country after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

“We acknowledge the official reaction to the reported images on social media,” the UNHCR office in Pakistan said.

The organization said it will continue to work with the Pakistani government to protect and assist those seeking safety.