Last week, Pakistan ordered all “illegal” migrants to leave the country, leaving millions, including long-term residents with valid documents, vulnerable to being returned to Afghanistan.
According to Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti, “illegal” Afghan migrants are those without Proof of Registration (PoR) cards or expired Afghan Citizen cards (ACC) issued by the Pakistani government.
The detainment and deportation of Afghan refugees has led to international outrage over human rights abuses. All refugees have the right to non-refoulement, a law outlined in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which states that individuals facing fear of persecution in their countries cannot be returned. Many Afghan refugees currently residing in Pakistan are former government employees – civil and military, activists, journalists, women’s groups leaders and many other groups who face threats of torture and detention by the Taliban if they return to Afghanistan.
Currently 3.7 million Afghans fleeing war, poverty and political instability in their homeland, live in Pakistan. The Taliban takeover in 2021 saw an increase in 700,000 refugees to Pakistan. Afghans have fled to the neighboring country of Pakistan since 1979 during the Soviet occupation and in the 1990s during the first Taliban regime. Only around 1.4 million Afghans hold Proof of Registration cards required to stay legally, according to Pakistani officials. Moreover, one-time Afghan Citizen Cards (ACC) issued by the government to 880,000 refugees in 2017 have expired. Now with an extended refugee crisis, the maintenance of large-scale documentation for refugees is in peril.
Before the deportation was announced, for over a year, Afghan citizens were being detained, for alleged illegal stay, entry violations, and involvement in crime. Pakistan’s detention of Afghan citizens is in an effort to regulate its borders and maintain internal security, especially as tensions rise between Islamabad and the Taliban over the rise in extremist militancy in Pakistan.
In response to this, Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban government spokesman, said that Pakistan’s plans to push out Afghans was “unacceptable,” and that “Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security problems.” In response to international pressure and calls from activists and global organizations, Pakistan released some 2500 refugees detained in Pakistani prisons.
Afghan citizens have also faced detention and deportation in Iran and Turkey as well. Bugti added, “If they do not go… then all the law enforcement agencies in the provinces or federal government will be utilized to deport them.”
Every human being deserves the right to liberty and safety, including refugees. Forced deportation will only worsen conditions for refugees.
Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty 10/08/2023