This report is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
October 6, 2023
By Hamza Saeed & Maryam Missal
On Friday, Interim Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani defended the government’s decision to deport all illegal immigrants, including Afghans, from the country. He argued that the decision is “in line with international practice,” emphasizing that Pakistan has been accommodating millions for over four decades.
Jilani pointed out that historically, Pakistan has welcomed immigrants in times of trouble. However, he noted that it has now been more than 40 years, and with the recent stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan, the government believes it’s time for illegal refugees to return to their homeland.
It was in response, to a statement by Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti when he declared that illegal immigrants must depart Pakistan by November 1, or else they will be subject to deportation by all law enforcement agencies.
In response to this ultimatum, Zabihullah Mujahid, Spokesperson of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan, condemned Pakistan’s actions, describing them as unacceptable. He urged Pakistan to reconsider its plan, asserting that Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security issues and should be tolerated as long as they leave voluntarily.
The behavior of Pakistan against Afghan refugees is unacceptable. The Pakistani side should reconsider its plan. Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security problems. As long as they leave Pakistan voluntarily, that country should tolerate them.
— Zabihullah (..ذبـــــیح الله م ) (@Zabehulah_M33) October 4, 2023
The issue has gained global attention, with Amnesty International urging the Government of Pakistan to uphold its longstanding support for Afghan refugees, ensuring they can lead dignified lives without the fear of being sent back to Afghanistan, where they may face persecution under the Taliban regime.
Nadia Rahman, Amnesty International’s Interim Deputy Regional Director for research in South Asia, emphasized, “Afghans residing in Pakistan are escaping persecution at the hands of the Taliban. They exist in highly uncertain circumstances, either navigating through challenging procedures to register as refugees in Pakistan or enduring lengthy processes in the hope of relocating to another country. Forcing them back to Afghanistan could expose them to serious danger.”
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Mohammad Tahseen, Executive Director at South Asia Partnership Pakistan expressed his concerns that this decision was taken without involving the political parties and that the caretaker government lacks the legitimacy to implement such policies. In response to Jilani’s statement on following ‘international practices’, he said that neither Pakistan is a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees nor it has a refugee policy. He added that this move will not only increase violence and militancy in the bordering regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan but will also spread insecurity and tensions among the community in the big cities of Lahore, Peshawar, and Karachi affecting law and order in the country.
🇵🇰 Government of Pakistan must continue its historic support for Afghan refugees by enabling them to live with dignity and free from the fear of deportation to Afghanistan where they face persecution by the Taliban. A forced return to Afghanistan could put them at grave risk.…
— Amnesty International South Asia, Regional Office (@amnestysasia) October 4, 2023
Qaisar Khan Afridi, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), emphasized the necessity for any refugee repatriation to be voluntary, free from coercion, in order to ensure the safety of those seeking refuge,” he conveyed to media platform Anadolu after the deadline was given to Afghan refugees.
Expressing concern, Afridi stated, “We have come across troubling reports in the press regarding a plan to deport unregistered Afghans, and we are seeking clarification from our government counterparts.”
He urged Islamabad, adding that it had graciously hosted refugees for over four decades, and urged for the country to establish a system that safeguards Afghans according to international protection from deportation. “It’s important to remember that individuals fleeing persecution often lack the necessary documents and travel permits,” he stressed.
He added that the UNHCR is prepared to assist Pakistan in creating a framework for the management and registration of individuals requiring international protection within its borders, addressing specific vulnerabilities.
“Pakistan has maintained its role as a generous host for refugees for decades. This contribution has been recognized globally, but more efforts are required to match its benevolence,” he continued.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) echoed these sentiments, denouncing the decision to evict over one million ‘illegal’ foreign residents. HRCP emphasized that the majority of these individuals are vulnerable Afghan refugees and stateless persons who have called Pakistan home for generations. They argued that holding them accountable for the actions of a select few is unjust and called for a reversal of the decision.
Furthermore, HRCP contended that the policy contradicts international human rights law and urged Pakistan to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention. HRCP announced its intention to lobby strongly with the government to reverse this decision and uphold the dignity and empathy owed to those seeking refuge in the country.
The government’s decision to evict over one million ‘illegal’ foreign residents within 30 days – allegedly because they have links to terrorist and criminal groups – reflects not only an absence of compassion but also a myopic and narrow view of national security. The large…
— Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (@HRCP87) October 4, 2023
Others from civil society have also raised concern and protest. Aurat March Lahore released a statement strongly condemning the government’s ultimatum for “illegal immigrants” to leave the country by November 1. They criticized the mass arrests, property seizures, and deportations of Afghan residents, highlighting their vulnerability.
Aurat March Lahore expressed concern over the lack of rights for Afghan immigrants living in Pakistan, citing discriminatory laws and policies. They emphasized the importance of compassion and urged Pakistan to halt its deportation policy, advocating for assistance to vulnerable immigrants.
We strongly condemn the government’s decision to order “illegal immigrants” to leave the country before November 1.
The ultimatum has led to mass arrests, seizure of property & deportation of Afghan residents who are already a vulnerable segment of the population.
— عورت مارچ لاہور – Aurat March Lahore (@AuratMarch) October 6, 2023
The deportation issue continues to draw widespread attention and calls for reconsideration from various quarters, highlighting the complex challenges surrounding immigration and national security policies in the region.