This conference is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
January 25, 2024
Voicepk.net, a project of AGHS Legal Aid Cell, with the support of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) organized the round table conference titled Pakistan’s Migrant Crisis and the Impact of the Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan on January 25, at the IFQ Hotel and Resort in Islamabad.
The conference was moderated by journalist and HRCP Co-Chair Munizae Jahangir and Pakistan-Afghanistan policy expert Ahmed Rashid. The event was attended by key politicians, including former Senators Farhatullah Babar and Afrasiab Khattak, Senators Taj Haider, Saadia Abbasi, Walid Iqbal and Afnan Ullah Khan, and former Members of the National Assembly (MNA) Mehnaz Akbar Aziz and Mohsin Dawar; as well as representatives from the Canadian and British High Commissions, and the German, Swedish, Australian and Dutch Embassies.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative to Pakistan Ms. Philippa Candler, UNHCR Spokesperson in Pakistan Qaiser Afridi, CEO of Society for Human Rights and Prisoners Aid (SHARP) Mudassar Javed, as well as a large number of civil society activists such as Jamila Gillani, Zegar Sher, Professor Dr. Ijaz Khan; journalists including Farzana Ali; and members of the Afghan refugee community also participated in the discussion.
The High Commissioner of Canada to Pakistan H. E. Ms. Leslie Scanlon expressed alarm over diminishing space and freedoms in Taliban-ruled Pakistan, especially for women. She also asserted Canada’s priority to support Afghan nationals in living their lives with dignity and respect. Ms. Scanlon held that the guarantee of fundamental freedoms for women and girls, as well as their equal and meaningful participation in society are prerequisites for sustainable economical and political development.
UNHCR Representative to Pakistan Ms. Philippa Candler explained that the Government of Pakistan requested the UN body to stop issuing refugee certificates in 2022. She therefore requested civil society to push the Government to adopt a humanitarian approach to the refugee crisis
Veteran politician and former Senator Afrasiab Khattak asserted that the refugees are not responsible, nor to be blamed for terrorism in Pakistan. He also provided that Afghanistan for the past four decades has been dominated by the three “Ds”: death, destruction and displacement.
In his address, Senator Taj Haider emphasized the need for a peace conference between Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Iran to resolve regional tensions and disputes.
Founder of the National Democratic Movement and former MNA Mohsin Dawar regretted that Muslim brotherhood and humanity are missing in Pakistan’s approach toward Afghan migrants, and that in lieu of this crisis, politicians appear more concerned about Gaza. He also related that he had presented Pakistan’s only bill concerning refugees, however the National Assembly has not shown any interest in proceeding with it.
Senator Afnan Ullah Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) praised the fact that Pakistan has played host to millions of Afghan refugees for decades, however in light of Pakistan’s security concerns, the matter should be approached with a new sensitivity.
Senator Walid Iqbal, who is also Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, asserted that it was the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which took steps to inculcate a supportive environment for Afghan refugees and maintained a friendly approach toward Afghanistan.
Former Senator and veteran politician of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Farhatullah Babar stressed that Pakistan must revisit the decision taken by the cabinet of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in February 2017 to institute a policy on migrants. He further stated that the security establishment reversed the good decisions taken by politicians, and that it is imperative that politicians retake the driving seat and prevent Pakistan from becoming a security state.
Advocate Hifza Bukhari, a human rights lawyer, emphasized that a caretaker government does not have the mandate to make or enforce policies pertaining to migrants
During the conference, representatives from the Afghan refugee community, including Baqir Ahmed and Fatima Atif appraised politicians as well as SHARP and UNHCR of their concerns, and expressed displeasure at the government’s apathy and the refugee agencies’ inability to protect them against forced repatriation.
At the end of the discussion, the house presented the following resolutions:
- Pakistan must sign and ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees.
- Pakistan must legislate on Afghan refugees as the absence of laws on refugees has enabled the state to make arbitrary decisions that affect thousands of vulnerable Afghan refugees, including women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and those at risk because of their professions.
- Pakistan must adhere to its obligations under the 1993 Tripartite Agreement with UNHCR and Afghanistan.
- Any repatriation of Afghan refugees must be voluntary, compliant with the international standards of dignity and safety, and be based on informed consent for return and reintegration.
- Reports of human rights abuses in the so-called detention centers must be investigated. Lawyers, human rights activists and the relatives of those detained have been regrettably denied access to these centers. These detention centers must be abolished as there is no moral or legal basis for their existence.
- Reports of human rights abuses including unlawful arrests, arbitrary detentions, harassment and physical abuse faced by Afghan refugees must be investigated. The
conference demands the constitution of a national refugee council to which can effectively address the concerns of refugees.
- Afghan refugees born in Pakistan must be accorded their right to apply for citizenship in case they want to become naturalized citizens.
- Pakistan must put humanitarian concerns ahead of security concerns when dealing with Afghan refugees.