Watchdog urges Pakistan not to deport Afghan refugees

Pakistani police forces. File photo.

Amnesty International in a statement on Thursday in response to reports of the Pakistani government’s directive to all unregistered Afghan refugees to depart the country by November 2023, said Islamabad must refrain from deporting Afghan refugees.

Nadia Rahman, the deputy head of Amnesty International for South Asia, said in a statement that “Afghans in Pakistan are escaping persecution by the Taliban and currently lead precarious lives.”

“They either navigate the demanding process of refugee registration in Pakistan or endure prolonged waits for relocation to other nations. A forced return to Afghanistan could expose them to grave risks,” she said.

Rahman said that Afghanistan citizens in Pakistan urgently require increased support, as the challenges and delays they encounter in obtaining refugee status or third-country relocation have left them in legal uncertainty and rendered them more susceptible to harassment and discrimination.

“Amnesty International urges the Government of Pakistan to continue its longstanding support for Afghan refugees by allowing them to live with dignity and without the fear of deportation to Afghanistan, where they face persecution by the Taliban,” she emphasized.

Amnesty International also reiterated its calls for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to expedite the registration and assessment of applications from Afghans seeking international protection in Pakistan.

“Furthermore, we call on the Government of Pakistan to halt the crackdown on, and the apprehension and harassment of, Afghan refugees. We urge third countries to offer relocation to Afghan nationals abroad to expedite visa issuance. The international community must promptly fulfill their initial commitments to provide protection to those fleeing persecution in Afghanistan,” she added.

On Tuesday, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti announced the crackdown on “illegal immigrants,” including Afghan nationals in Pakistan. In recent years, numerous Afghans, fearing persecution following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, have sought refuge in Pakistan, where they have faced arbitrary detentions, arrests, and the prospect of deportation. Due to substantial delays in the registration process, most lack Proof of Registration (PoR) or Afghan Citizen Card (ACC) documentation, which entitles Afghan refugees to reside lawfully in Pakistan. Many entered Pakistan with regular visas that have since expired.

Amnesty International has previously documented the harassment experienced by Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

In light of the Taliban’s assumption of power, the UNHCR has issued a non-return advisory for Afghans residing outside their homeland. According to the UNHCR, over 3.7 million Afghans are in Pakistan, having fled Afghanistan for both economic and political reasons, with only 1.4 million of them holding formal registrations.

In December 2022, Amnesty International conveyed its concerns regarding the situation of Afghan asylum seekers and refugees to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.