UN urges Pakistan to halt Afghan deportations

Published October 28, 2023
Afghan refugees arrive in Torkham to cross the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, on Friday.—AFP
Afghan refugees arrive in Torkham to cross the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, on Friday.—AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Of­­fice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on the Pakistani government to “suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals before it is too late to avoid a human rights catastrophe”.

“We call on them to continue providing protection to those in need and ensure that any fut­ure returns are safe, dignified and voluntary, and fully consistent with int­ernational law,” OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Sha­­mdasani said in a sta­tement from Geneva on Friday.

“We believe many of those facing deportation will be at grave risk of human rights violations if returned to Afghanistan, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, cruel and other inhuman treatment, spokesperson said.

She said, “We are extremely alarmed by Pakistan’s announcement that it plans to deport ‘undocumented’ foreign nationals remaining in the country after Nov 1, a measure that will disproportionately imp­act more than 1.4 million undocumented Afghans who remain in Pakistan.”

There are more than two million undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan, with at least 600,000 of them leaving Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

The spokesperson said those at particular risk are civil society activists, journalists, human rights defenders, former government officials and security force members, and of course women and girls as a whole, who, as a result of the abhorrent policies currently in place in Afghanistan, are banned from secondary and tertiary education, working in many sectors and other aspects of daily and public life.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Organisa­tion for Migration (IOM) have already documented a sharp increase in returns to Afghanistan since the deadline was announced on Oct 3. A recent flash report by UNHCR and IOM placed the number of Afghans who left Pakistan in the month up to Oct 15 at 59,780 individuals.

Seventy-­eight per cent of those returning cited the fear of arrest as the reason for leaving Pakistan.

The spokesperson stated that deportations without individualised determinations of personal circumstances, including any mass deportations, would amount to refoulement in violation of international human rights law, in particular the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to which Pakistan is a state party, and of international refugee law.

And as winter approaches, any mass deportations are bound to deepen the dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, as it grapples with the devastating impact of a series of earthquakes that struck Herat province this month, leaving at least 1,400 people dead and 1,800 injured, as per official figures, spokesperson said.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human­itarian Affairs, close to 30m people currently need relief assistance in Afghanistan, out of a population of 43m, and 3.3m are internally displaced.

“We remind the de facto authorities of the international human rights obligations that continue to bind Afghan­istan as a state and their obligations to protect, promote and fulfil human rights.”

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2023

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