October 9, 2023
Since the fall of Kabul, in August 2021, an estimated 600,000 Afghans have arrived, seeking refuge from the Taliban government.
Now there are nationwide crackdowns upon Afghan nationals as the Pakistan government has made its decision to send them back by the end of this month.
While civil society had already responded to this decision – some of them in exclusive interviews with Voicepk, last week, on October 7, the UN announced that Pakistan must protect the Afghan nationals.
The UN’s refugee and migration agencies together appealed that Pakistan must “continue protecting those who sought safety in the country and could be “at imminent risk if forced to return”. It was a “severe humanitarian crisis” said the UN, adding that women and girls in particular were facing several human rights issues and this would only exacerbate their problems.
A day before, on October 6, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner of UNHCR, Qaisar Khan Afridi had said the necessity for any refugee repatriation to be voluntary, free from coercion, in order to ensure the safety of those seeking refuge.
“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 said that Pakistan had hosed the refugees for over four decades and that there should be a system to protect those who were dwelling here especially those since birth, but also those who were running to Pakistan.
“It’s important to remember that individuals fleeing persecution often lack the necessary documents and travel permits,” he stressed
Agencies will support Afghan Nationals
On the other hand, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said they were ready to support in Pakistan in registering and managing Afghan nationals. However, the reiterated a call on all countries to “suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals” and ensure any possible returns to the country take place in a safe, dignified, and voluntary manner.
Acknowledging Pakistan’s sovereign prerogative over domestic policies, its need to manage populations on its territory, and its obligations to ensure public safety and security, the UN’s agencies reiterated their collaboration with the government.
UNHCR and IOM also added that Pakistan’s new plans will have “serious implications” for all who have been forced to leave the country and may face serious protection risks upon their return.
“The forced repatriation of Afghan nationals has the potential to result in severe human rights violations, including the separation of families and deportation of minors,” the UN agencies warned.
Pakistan continues to be one of the world’s largest refugee-hosting countries, providing safety to some 1.3 million registered refugees who were forced to flee their countries, 99 per cent of which are Afghans, according to UNHCR’s latest update in August.
‘Suspend forcible returns’
They reiterated a call on all countries to “suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals” and ensure any possible returns to the country take place in a safe, dignified, and voluntary manner.
More than 1,800 Afghans were deported from Karachi last year, city police said, and nearly 1,700 have been arrested so far in 2023. Around 128 illegal Afghan migrants have been rounded up in Quetta so far, while PPI reported that Islamabad police rounded up 38 Afghan nationals in an operation in Blue Area on Saturday.
The Afghan Commissionerate figures shows that 956,720 Afghan refugees are living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while only 648,968 Afghan refugees are registered in the province. At least 885,000 Afghan refugees are living in settled areas and 22,390 are based in the tribal districts, while over 300,000 refugees were not registered with the commissionerate so far.