UN official sounds alarm on deportation risk for Afghan nationals in Pakistan

A group of Afghan migrants in border near Pakistan. November 2023. File Photo.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has expressed grave concern over Pakistan’s announced plan to deport “undocumented” foreign nationals staying in the country after November 1.

This measure is expected to disproportionately impact over 1.4 million undocumented Afghans currently residing in Pakistan.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, there are more than two million undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan, with at least 600,000 having left Afghanistan after the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021.

Shamdasani emphasized that many of those facing deportation are at significant risk of human rights violations if returned to Afghanistan. This includes the threat of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and other inhuman treatment. Individuals at particular risk include civil society activists, journalists, human rights defenders, former government officials, security force members, and women and girls as a whole. In Afghanistan, women and girls face severe restrictions in education, employment, and public life due to current policies.

The UNHCR and IOM have already documented a notable increase in returns to Afghanistan since the deportation deadline was announced on October 3. A recent flash report from both organizations indicates that 59,780 individuals left Pakistan for Afghanistan in the month leading up to October 15. The statement notes that 78 percent of those returning cited fear of arrest as their reason for leaving Pakistan.

As the November 1 deadline approaches, the statement calls on Pakistani authorities to halt forcible returns of Afghan nationals to prevent a potential human rights catastrophe. It urges them to continue offering protection to those in need and ensure that any future returns are conducted in a safe, dignified, and voluntary manner, fully in line with international law.

Mass deportations without individualized assessments of personal circumstances, including any such actions, would constitute refoulement, in violation of international human rights law, particularly the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, of which Pakistan is a State party, and international refugee law.

The statement further highlights that as winter approaches, any mass deportations are likely to exacerbate the dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The country is already grappling with the devastating aftermath of a series of earthquakes in Herat Province, which claimed the lives of at least 1,400 people and left 1,800 injured, according to official figures. OCHA reports that nearly 30 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan out of a total population of 43 million, with 3.3 million individuals internally displaced.

The UN commissioner reminded the de facto authorities in Afghanistan of their ongoing international human rights obligations as a state and their responsibility to protect, promote, and fulfill human rights.