This report is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
October 26, 2023
141 Afghan musicians have moved the Peshawar High Court (PHC) against the forced repatriation of Afghan refugees, pleading that they will be unable to continue their art due to the ban imposed by the Afghan Taliban regime on music.
The petitioners submit that according to Article 15 and 16 of the 2003 tripartite agreement between the UNHCR, Pakistan and Afghanistan (which has since been continually renewed), voluntary repatriation is the preferred durable solution for refugees, and that the attainment of this solution requires that refugees shall return in condition of safety and dignity. Additionally, as Pakistan is signatory to the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Government of Pakistan must honor it by accommodating the civil and political rights of Afghan nationals as refugees.
The writ also points out that per the resettlement policy between the Government of Pakistan and the UNHCR, Afghan nationals registered with the refugee agency through an allotted token are allowed to remain within Pakistan as refugees. As the petitioners are registered with the UNHCR through these tokens, they are accorded sanctuary in Pakistan as recorded refugees.
However, in spite of these protocols and agreements, the State of Pakistan through a notification dated October 10, initiated the forced repatriation of Afghan nationals regardless of their refugee status. Moreover, Afghan individuals and their families are being arrested and prosecuted, and during this entire process they are being harassed and humiliated.
The writ pleads that as they are musicians, they face threats to their lives as well as livelihoods in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime has imposed a ban on music, concerts and any other such activities, and even publicly destroyed musical instruments to discourage citizens from engaging in the performing arts.
Bacha Khan, a musician who came to Peshawar from Laghman in Afghanistan two years ago, reiterated that he travelled to Pakistan because the ban on music in Afghanistan deprived him of making a living.
“[The Government of] Pakistan is forcing all refugees except those who have [PoR] cards to leave. People like me do not have these cards and our cases are still on going,” he told Voicepk.net, adding that they are seeking a permission letter from the PHC to remain in Pakistan.
“We do not have to do anything with politics. We are artists, we are poor. We are just servants no matter where we are.”
Faqir Muhammad, who is a maestro of the tabla, said that he had to flee for his life from Afghanistan. Although he has already applied to the UNHCR for a refugee token, his application is still under process.
“We are skilled people. I also wish to go back to Afghanistan because it too is my country along with Pakistan. I wish that those in power there acknowledge and think about us,” he said. “We came here two years ago because music was banned [in Afghanistan]. Here, the police harass us, asking for our cards. We are musicians, our instruments are our cards. We cannot do anything except play music. Back there we would be unemployed, so we request the Government [of Pakistan] to reconsider [deporting us].”
The Ministry of Interior, the Federation of Pakistan, the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), the Directorate General of Immigration and Passports, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the Secretary of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, the Secretary of the Home and Tribal Affairs Department, the Chief Secretary of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government, and the State of Pakistan have been made respondents in the petition.