October 12, 2023

By Maryam Missal


LAHORE

The Capital Development Authority (CDA) on Wednesday, conducted demolitions in illegal Afghan settlements in I-12/2 and Margalla Town Phase 2. The recovered land was handed over for sector development.

This action was part of a broader initiative by the CDA, in collaboration with local law enforcement and administration ostensibly to curb unauthorized encroachments. However this operation led to the reclamation of 250 kanals of land, subsequently designated for sector development.

The CDA personnel used heavy machinery to demolish numerous rooms and several livestock farms.

Behind the scenes, separate teams comprised of capital police and local administration had been working diligently to identify and locate properties and businesses owned by Afghan nationals, regardless of their legal refugee status.

These teams are looking into revenue records and are conducting physical inspections of properties and businesses, while closely examining purchase documents. The information collected is slated to be submitted to a task force established within the interior ministry, with properties acquired through forged documents marked for confiscation.

Recently, a video of Islamabad Capital police has been circulating on social media. In the video, police officials are seen making announcements near a squatter settlement, directing undocumented Afghan refugees to vacate the area and report to refugee camps for eventual deportation.

Concurrently, the Ministry of States and Frontier Region’s Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees issued a letter to various authorities, including the interior minister and inspectors general of police in several provinces. The letter underscored the legal status of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, stating that those with valid proof of registration cards and Afghan citizen cards could reside in the country temporarily and could only be repatriated on a voluntary basis. It also emphasized that instructions had been communicated to all stakeholders, including provincial governments.

The letter further warned against harassing, arresting, or detaining registered Afghan refugees, highlighting the potential adverse impact on Pakistan’s image and the goodwill earned over the last 43 years. It called for clear instructions to be issued to relevant departments and agencies to ensure that no undue adverse actions were taken against registered Afghan refugees with valid proof of registration cards and Afghan citizen cards issued by Nadra, pending a decision by the federal cabinet.

These actions are 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.

 
Meanwhile, the action was met with strong criticism from many.
Khushal Khan, a member of the National Democratic Movement (NDM) said that the Afghans needed to be protected from such actions.
“The demolition of settlements and the bulldozing of their homes in Islamabad are a grave violation of their rights,”
he said while speaking to Voicepk.net. “These draconian actions cannot be justified. Afghan refugees and asylum seekers have a right to be protected as they are vulnerable. It is very shameful that not only are Afghans being threatened, harassed and arrested, but that now their homes are being demolished as well. The government needs to stop going to such extremes and the crackdown against Afghans needs to stop.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also spoke up regarding the incident.
In a statement, the organization said that it was “appalled by reports … that residents of Afghan origin are being evicted summarily from their homes and that settlements of Afghan refugees are being razed by the state. This is blatantly xenophobic and must cease. The government must understand that the forcible deportation of vulnerable Afghans is neither sound nor practical: it will put many of them at risk in their home country and is likely to separate families, including women and children. Repatriation must only ever be voluntary and ensure that the rights of the most vulnerable are protected, including their right to shelter, healthcare and legal counsel. Pakistan would be better served if it were to expedite the registration of refugees and legislate to protect their rights as residents.”

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