ISLAMABAD: On a petition filed by a group of human rights defenders, the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) on Tuesday wrote a letter to the government and concerned stakeholders urging them to deal with the Afghan asylum seekers according to national and international human rights commitments.
The human rights defenders in their petition requested the NCHR to play its role in restraining the government from detaining, forcefully deporting or otherwise harassing Afghan asylum seekers.
The petition also suggested to the commission to direct UNHCR to expeditiously process and decide all the asylum seeking applications filed by the foreigners presently residing in Pakistan.
Taking cognizance of the plea, the commission wrote to the government and other stakeholders recommending them to restrain from the repatriation of those who possessed documentation and vulnerable groups, including asylum seekers.
Rights defenders oppose forced repatriation of Afghan refugees in light of international treaties
A statement said the letter advised the government that persons holding expired government documentation might be allowed to review them. The government must ensure that women, children and families were not separated during cross-border movement.
The commission also called for developing guidelines and bringing clarity to the government’s Afghan refugee policy through consultations with civil society and international organisations mandated to provide international protection.
The delegation included Senator Mushtaq Ahmed, former senators Farhatullah Babar and Afrasiab Khattak and human rights defenders Saba Gul Khattak, Amina Masood Junjua and advocate Imran Shafique. They held a meeting with NCHR Chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha.
Their petition stated that Pakistan had remained home to the largest refugee populations in the world, and signed a tripartite agreement with the government of Afghanistan and UNHCR in which it committed that refugees would only be repatriated on voluntary basis.
The petition referred to different categories of Afghans who had earlier remained in Pakistan as asylum seekers which included Proof of Registration Cards and Afghan Citizen Cards. The statement said all those registered with SHARP and UNHCR had been allowed to stay in Pakistan as asylum seekers.
Senator Ahmed referred to an earlier policy decision taken by the federal cabinet on management of Afghan refugees that prohibited harassment of unregistered Afghan refugees and application of Section 14 of the Foreigners Act 1946.
Similarly, former Senator Farhatullah Babar requested the commission to take cognizance of the forced repatriation of Afghan refugees in the light of international human rights treaties which prohibited member states to forcibly expel refugees or asylum seekers.
He also expressed concern that UNHCR was not expeditiously processing applications of the asylum seekers filed by foreigners in Pakistan especially Afghan HRDs.
Former Senator Afarsiab Khattak spoke of suffering of women and children.
Saba Gul Khattak raised questions on the application of human rights treaties which were prerequisite for ongoing international trade concessions.
The delegation argued that the documents of many migrants were either not duly processed by the government authorities or revalidation process was withheld as a matter of policy which was denial of human rights as due process on individual cases was not applied.
The members of the delegation also referred to the decisions of the higher courts which recognised the rights of asylum seekers in Pakistan under the Constitution.
The commission assured the delegation of consideration for their petition.
Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2023