UN experts sound alarm over risk to Afghan nationals forced out of Pakistan

In a statement issued on Wednesday, UN experts, including special rapporteur Richard Bennett, warned of the grave risk of human rights violations faced by Afghan nationals who have been compelled to leave Pakistan since November 1.

The experts highlighted that those most vulnerable to potential harm upon return to Afghanistan include women and girls, victims of trafficking, religious and ethnic minorities, former government officials, persons with disabilities, older individuals, and other refugees and migrants, whether documented or undocumented.

The experts cautioned the Government of Pakistan, stating that the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan (IFRP), implemented on November 1, 2023, lacks provisions for individual assessments of irreparable harm and risks faced by Afghan nationals forced to return.

“Afghan nationals, particularly women and girls, face risks of being trafficked or re-trafficked in the country or during displacement. Persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities are particularly at risk of persecution upon return,” the experts warned.

Expressing concern, the experts noted that the adoption of the plan without ensuring effective protection for Afghan nationals may violate the absolute prohibition of refoulement under customary international law.

The UN experts emphasized the severe impact the plan could have on women and girls, given the pattern of large-scale systematic human rights violations and discrimination against them in Afghanistan, amounting to gender persecution.

“Women and girls deported to Afghanistan risk being subjected to child and forced marriage, trafficking in persons, and denial of the rights to education, to work, and to freedom of movement and equal protection of the law,” the experts stated.

The experts also voiced deep concern over allegations of forced evictions of Afghan nationals in Pakistan by landlords and reported cases of arbitrary arrests, including of children, since the beginning of 2023. They emphasized that unsubstantiated linkages between the presence of refugees and migrants and terrorism risks should not be drawn.

“Assistance and protection must be ensured, including effective access to the right to seek and enjoy asylum, without discrimination and regardless of the documentation held by Afghan nationals,” the experts insisted.

Having communicated their concerns with the Government of Pakistan, the experts urged the international community to support the hosting of Afghan refugees, emphasizing increased opportunities for resettlement and rights-based family reunification.