This report is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
September 29, 2023
Ghulam Sarwar’s family was scattered as they fled their home in Afghanistan’s northwestern Bādghīs Province, when the war between the Taliban and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) was in its final stages.
His two sons reached Iran, while Sarwar, his wife and remaining family members arrived in Quetta, Balochistan. Since then, they have taken up residence in a slum situated at the Eastern Bypass, and which is solely populated by Afghan refugees.
On September 26, the caretaker Cabinet approved the decision to deport 1.1 million ‘illegal’ Afghan migrants. Afghan refugees and migrants, however, are opposed to returning to their country under Taliban rule.
“It was full scale battle between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Kandahar and other areas,” he related.
Sarwar used to work as a security guard for a school for a meagre monthly pay of Rs5,000. In Pakistan, he works as a driver.
“I would never go back to my country willingly, at least I can earn something here. If there were jobs in [Afghanistan], then why would I have ever have come here in the first place? I am extremely worried after hearing all this news about deportations. We do not have the money for a car ride back home. Either we will die on the way or Afghanistan’s winters will do us in.”
Out of an estimated 3.7 million refugees residing in Pakistan, 1.3 million are registered. According to government statistics, around 600,000 Afghans migrated to Pakistan after the Taliban seized control over Afghanistan. A slew of cases have been registered under provisions of the Foreigners Act 1946 against illegal as well as legal migrants in an ongoing operation to expel Afghans from Pakistan.
Chairman of the Balochistan Bar Council Committee on Human Rights, Rahib Khan Buledi considers these arrests and forced repatriations of Afghans gross violations of their fundamental human rights.
“The protection of all peoples is central to UN Charters. Whether they be from Afghanistan or Pakistan, they should be repatriated only if they are sufficiently protected in their own country.
Forcibly repatriating someone whose life is under threat back in their country is a gross violation of their rights as human beings,” he told Voicepk.net, adding that even children are being rounded up and deported to Afghanistan.
“Police arrested a 12 to 13 year old boy, and charged him under the immigration law to deport him. The boy said he did not have any residence here and neither in Afghanistan. There are many such cases and issues, especially in the border regions.”
The United Nations has expressed concern over the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where millions face acute poverty and hunger. While on the other hand, there has been a notable increase in attacks against religious and ethnic minorities by Islamic State militants.
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o escape persecution, Muhammad Mehdi, too, migrated with his family to Quetta from Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province, where he has found work as a welder.
“Everyone was terror-stricken when the Taliban arrived. The government was ousted, and people began fleeing. Work and life came to a halt as even traders closed their shops and left their homes,” he recalled. “People began leaving in droves after a rumour that the Taliban will kill anyone still residing in the cities. We, too, had to escape.”
A majority of Afghan refugees reside in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, Pakistan’s neighbouring provinces with Afghanistan. Due to strict security and screening at Torkham Gate, many of these migrants enter Pakistan through Chaman.
Provincial Interior Minister Captain (Retd) Mohammad Zubair Jamali says that the repatriation process will soon begin.
“The Provincial Government’s policy is clear, especially after the Prime Minister announced so (and which I have been saying for a long time), that Afghan immigrants should return to their countries as soon as the situation improves in Afghanistan,” he stated. “I an individual or a group faces any threat, then the matter will be referred to the Government of a Pakistan and a relevant policy will be worked out.”
Despite the passage of two years since the Fall of Kabul, Pakistan has yet to formulate any policy for new Afghan migrants. Furthermore, the renewal of Proof of Registration (PoR) Cards of 1.3 million migrants is pending, putting their legal status in jeopardy.
Qaisar Afridi, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), expressed concern over the cases registered under the Foreigners Act against Afghan refugees sans any refugee/migrant policy.
“We are hopeful, and we also demand, that detained Afghans be released if they are not involved in any dangerous activities,” he said, adding that they are already facing myriad obstacles due to lacking legal documentation. “They cannot access hospitals, they cannot access schools…”
Human rights activists and legal experts believe that if a policy was drafted and enacted in time, refugees like Sarwar and Mehdi would not have to spend their lives in fear and uncertainty.