Refugee agencies warn Islamabad refugees could be ‘at risk’ if returned to Afghanistan

Organizations supporting refugees, including the United Nations’ refugee agency have collectively appealed to the Pakistan government to maintain its protection of vulnerable Afghanistan nationals who have sought refuge in the country.

In a joint statement issued on Saturday, the agencies, including the IOM, said that vulnerable Afghans “could be at imminent risk if forced to return [to Afghanistan].”

This appeal follows Pakistan’s recent announcement of plans to expel over one million undocumented refugees from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is currently dealing with a severe humanitarian crisis with several human rights challenges, particularly for women and girls. Such plans, on the part of Pakistan, could have serious implications for all who have been forced to leave Afghanistan, while many could face serious protection risks upon return, the organizations stated.

“UNHCR and IOM acknowledge the Government’s sovereign prerogative over domestic policies, its need to manage populations on its territory, and its obligations to ensure public safety and security,” the statement said.

“UNHCR and IOM have a longstanding and strong collaboration with the Government of Pakistan and stand ready to provide support in developing a comprehensive and sustainable mechanism to register and manage Afghan nationals, including those who may be in need of international protection,” it added.

They also stress the importance of all returns being voluntary, safe, and dignified, without imposing any pressure on individuals seeking safety.

This comes after the government of Pakistan set a deadline of November 1 for all illegal migrants, including 1.73 million refugees from Afghanistan, to leave the country.

Last week, Pakistani officials said operations would be carried out to arrest and deport migrants who failed to comply with the deadline.