Pakistan urged not to deport Afghan U.S. visa, refugee applicants

A group of journalists and activists in exile in Pakistan. File photo.

A collective of former high-ranking U.S. officials and resettlement organizations on Tuesday issued a plea to Pakistan, urging the country not to deport thousands of Afghan applicants for special U.S. visas or relocation as refugees to the United States.

Pakistan has established a November 1 deadline for the expulsion of all illegal immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of Afghans, under the threat of forcible removal.

Among those affected, there are approximately 20,000 or more Afghans who sought refuge in Pakistan after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. They are currently awaiting the processing of their applications for U.S. Special Immigration Visas (SIVs) or resettlement in the United States as refugees.

An open letter, signed by 80 former senior U.S. officials, individuals, and U.S. resettlement groups, was sent to the Pakistani embassy, arguing that returning these individuals to a perilous environment contradicts humanitarian principles and international agreements that Pakistan has endorsed.

Among the signatories are prominent figures, including Colin Kahl, who served as the third-ranking Pentagon official until July, three former U.S. ambassadors to Kabul, and two retired U.S. generals.

The initiative was organized by #AfghanEvac, the leading coalition of U.S. organizations dedicated to facilitating the resettlement of Afghans in the United States who fear retaliation for their service to the U.S. government or U.S.-affiliated organizations during the two-decade-long American conflict with the Taliban.

The individuals in Pakistan awaiting the processing of their applications for SIVs or refugee resettlement encompass a diverse group, including former translators, journalists, women activists, and other professionals, all of whom face substantial risks should they return to Afghanistan, as stated in the letter.

The signatories beseeched Pakistan to immediately cease the deportations of these Afghan individuals and, at the very least, exempt them from detention or deportation.

Pakistan has asserted that the deportation process will be organized and conducted in phases, starting with individuals with criminal records. Islamabad has also reported that 1.73 million Afghans residing in Pakistan lack legal documents, alleging that Afghan nationals were responsible for 14 out of 24 suicide bombings in the current year.