UN urges Pakistan to halt forced deportation of Afghan migrants

The United Nations called on the government of Pakistan to immediately suspend the forced deportation of Afghan migrants from the country. This call comes as the UN urges Islamabad to continue offering support to vulnerable individuals and those seeking refuge within its borders.

Since August 2021, Pakistan has provided shelter for various vulnerable groups, including human rights activists, women’s rights advocates, former military personnel, journalists, political activists, and other at-risk individuals who fled Afghanistan. However, the recent decision by the Pakistani government to forcibly expel these individuals has raised significant concerns about their safety and well-being.

“There is no way back for the women who have come [to Pakistan]. I think it is difficult for any woman who had been a defender of women’s rights and had played a role in society to be subjected to Taliban violence again,” said Alia Gawhari, a women’s rights activist.

The United Nations’ call for the suspension of forced deportation stems from the heightened risks faced by these vulnerable individuals under the current Taliban rule in Afghanistan. International human rights organizations have also expressed similar concerns, particularly for women who have been vocal advocates for women’s rights and have challenged the Taliban’s violations.

Heather Barr, Associate Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, raised her concerns about the expulsion of women from Pakistan, stating, “We have a particular concern about the situation of women in Pakistan, Afghan women, because there have been fewer pathways for women to be able to resettle in other countries. Many countries have focused on assisting Afghans who are part of their military effort, which is disproportionately men. This has left out women who, for example, were women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, worked in civil society, and worked in jobs related to foreign entities but were not part of the military.”

“We’re very aware that some of the people who are stranded in Pakistan and now facing the risk of deportation are women’s rights activists who have spoken out against Taliban abuses, and it’s heartbreaking to think that they could now potentially be forced to go back to Afghanistan,” she added.

The UN is urging Pakistan to cease the forced expulsion process and to establish mechanisms for the registration and protection of these vulnerable individuals. Furthermore, the UN is calling for international support to address the specific vulnerabilities these individuals face.

“Our colleagues at UNHCR are appealing to Pakistan to continue its protection of all vulnerable Afghans who have sought safety in the country. UNHCR has offered its support to Pakistan in developing a mechanism to manage and register people in need of international protection on its territory and respond to particular vulnerabilities. UNHCR underscores that any refugee return must be voluntary without any pressure, and to ensure protection for those seeking safety,” said Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric.

Rina Amiri, the US Special Representative for Women and Human Rights in Afghanistan, has also raised the issue of the forced deportation of Afghan immigrants with Pakistan’s ambassador to the US. “Discussed the impacts on women and other vulnerable groups and the risks and challenges they face in being returned to Afghanistan,” Amiri said.

Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted on January 28, 1951, which includes Article 32 stating that host countries should not expel refugees unless there are valid grounds related to national security or public order. The forced deportation of migrants without visas or residence documents by the Pakistani government appears to defy this convention.

“Those who were advocating and took refuge in Pakistan out of fear of oppressors and terrorists are now being sent under the blade of the Taliban,” said Masuada Kohistani, a women activist.

The situation remains complex, as obtaining and renewing visas in Pakistan is often a challenging process.