Earlier today, Amnesty International released a statement for World Refugee Day imploring the Pakistani government to “stop harassing and arbitrarily arresting Afghans seeking refuge.” Since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in August 2021, many Afghans have fled to the bordering countries of Pakistan and Iran, becoming refugees.
While Amnesty International’s statement focuses on Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Iranian authorities have been treating Afghan refugees in a similar manner.
The treatment of Afghan refugees in Pakistan raises concerns about the violations of rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Refugee Convention, according to Amnesty International. Article 14 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries.” At the same time, the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol protect refugees from being returned to countries where they risk being persecuted. For Afghans who worked under the former government, returning to Afghanistan is impossible.
Despite these established protections, Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran constantly face detentions, arrests and threats of deportation without any due process. Most people do not hold “Proof of Registration” (PoR) cards, allowing Afghans to remain in Pakistan, due to delays in the registration process. Those who arrived with visas, which have now expired, are left in a precarious legal status.
According to Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for South Asia, Dinushika Dissanayake, “it is deeply concerning that the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is not receiving due international attention. Being unable to return home fearing persecution or stay permanently in Pakistan, they are caught in an impossible situation from which there is no escape.” In February 2023, police raided the homes of several Afghan families, after which they were detained and inexplicably had their passports taken away. They reported paying fines in the thousands of rupees (equivalent to several hundred US dollars) but received no documentation or proof confirming the detention and fines.
One of the most difficult obstacles to solving this crisis is that countries which offered special relocation plans to Afghan individuals facing persecution by the Taliban, such as the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany, are currently not issuing visas within Afghanistan because they do not have diplomatic representation. In Pakistan, these countries are also unable to schedules appointments and process interviews in a timely manner Additionally, Afghans seeking asylum must wait a long time to obtain proof of registration from the UNHCR.
The Society for Human Rights and Prisoners’ Aid (SHARP) agency is tasked with registering Afghans seeking asylum, providing them with PoR cards and determining whether they qualify as refugees but it takes a long time to schedule interviews and make calls, so receiving documentation has been slow. In the meantime, other Pakistani authorities have been able to extort money from the vulnerable status of Afghan refugees in the province of Sindh, and cities such as Karachi, Peshawar, Chaman, and Quetta. For example, landlords are taking bribes from Afghans without PoR cards. Refugees, especially women and girls, report feeling that their freedom of expression is limited since they face threats from their perilous legal status and gender discrimination in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Dissayanake added that “the international community has failed to provide adequate protection to those fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, in sharp contrast to the initial promises made.” On World Refugee Day, the status of refugees is in jeopardy. It is time to recognize refugee rights as human rights and move quickly to ensure their safety.
Amnesty International 06/20/2023; UNHCR – Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees; UN – Universal Declaration of Human Rights