October 19, 2023
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called on the Pakistan government to re-evaluate its decision to deport undocumented foreigners by November 1st.
The caretaker government recently set a November 1 deadline for all illegal migrants, which includes hundreds and thousands of Afghans, to either leave the country voluntarily or face the possibility of forcible expulsion.
Furthermore, the HRCP has declared its intention to pursue legal action to halt the deportation drive. HRCP Chairperson Hina Jilani stated, “HRCP will soon initiate public interest litigation, either in the high court or in the Supreme Court, to prevent the impending forced deportation of illegal immigrants after the November 1st deadline.”
This decision came after a high-profile consultation held on October 18th in Islamabad, which saw the participation of civil society activists, lawyers, political leaders, including former Senator Afrasiab Khattak, representatives of the Afghan refugee community, and delegates from UNHCR and IOM.
Jilani expressed concern over the caretaker government’s authority to make such a significant policy decision, emphasizing that such arbitrary actions could lead to forced repatriation, which is not recognized under international law. She also highlighted the potential negative impact on poor and vulnerable Afghan refugees and asylum seekers.
Former Senator and HRCP Council member Farhatullah Babar argued that the absence of domestic refugee laws should not be an excuse for failing to protect refugees’ rights, given Pakistan’s obligations under its tripartite agreement with Afghanistan and UNHCR. He recommended establishing a national refugee council to facilitate communication between the government and refugees, allowing the latter to voice their concerns.
Dr. Saba Gul Khattak, a researcher focusing on refugee rights, stressed the importance of accurate and publicly available data on the number of refugees and asylum seekers to conduct fair needs assessments. Participants agreed that the lack of documentation increased the potential for human rights violations, and they denounced the deportation of an entire community based solely on security considerations, which they viewed as a form of collective punishment.
Former Member of the National Assembly (MNA) from North Waziristan, Mohsin Dawar, shared his efforts to introduce a refugee protection bill in the national assembly. Unfortunately, the legislation did not gain support from major political parties. He asserted that having such a law regulating refugees’ rights could have prevented their mistreatment.
Dawar also rejected the narrative that Afghan refugees are involved in terrorist activities in Pakistan, attributing the resurgence of terrorism in Pakistan to the facilitation of TTP fighters within Pakistan and the granting of state protocol to members of the Afghan Taliban. He emphasized that Afghan refugees had not been involved in terrorist activities in Pakistan.