Several politicians and rights activists filed a petition with the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday challenging the “mass deportation” of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers by the caretaker government.
The petitioners include PPP’s Farhatullah Babar, Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan Senator Mushtaq Ahmed, rights activist Amina Masood Janjua, National Democratic Movement Chairman Mohsin Dawar, lawyer Jibran Nasir, Rohail Kasi, Syed Muaz Shah, Pastor Ghazala Parveen, lawyer Iman Zainab Mazari, Ahmad Shabbar, Advocate Imran Shafiq, Luke Victor and Sijal Shafiq.
The petition has not yet been accepted for hearing.
Earlier this month, the government gave an ultimatum to all undocumented immigrants to leave Pakistan by Oct 31 or else risk imprisonment and deportation to their respective countries.
While the decision had prompted criticism from Afghanistan and several other quarters, the caretakers refused to budge from the deadline, insisting the move was not aimed at any particular ethnic group.
Of the more than four million Afghans living in Pakistan, the government estimates 1.7m are undocumented.
The government has decided to keep foreign nationals residing in the country without identity documents in “holding centres” before deporting them to their respective countries.
The petition filed with the SC today, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, was moved under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.
It named 15 respondents, including the federation through the caretaker premier, the government’s apex committee through the interior secretary, all four provinces and the Islamabad Capital Territory, the chief commissioner for Afghan refugees, and the National Database and Registration Authority through its chairman.
It said that the government’s decision to expel immigrants was causing a “massive violation of fundamental rights of around 4.4 million persons of Afghan origin who are for the time being in Pakistan”.
It said that the decision amounted to reversing Pakistan’s “45-year-old policy of extending hospitality to refugees, asylum seekers and even unregistered immigrants — a strategic decision which falls completely beyond the limited constitutional mandate of the caretaker government”.
“Since this repatriation is not voluntary, nor is the government of Afghanistan facilitating the same, it is possible that many of those being deported will die of cold and hunger — amongst them would be Pakistani citizens and genuine refugees who never stood a chance to prove their legal claims,” the plea said.
It said that the issue of deporting undocumented Afghans had been brought up before elected federal cabinets that had opted for “more nuanced and humane solutions” rather than a mass deportation policy.
The petition said that while the government’s decision was “framed in somewhat neutral language” it was “obviously targeted at the millions of Afghan refugees who are compelled by circumstances to live in Pakistan”.
“It is extremely disturbing that instead of doing its job — preparing for elections — the caretaker government is taking strategic policy decisions whose consequence will be borne by the people of this country,” the plea said.
The plea urged the court to declare the government’s decision to expel illegal immigrants as “illegal and unconstitutional” and to set it aside.
It also urged the court to restrain the federation from “detaining, forcefully deporting or otherwise harassing anyone who is either a refugee or an asylum seeker” and possessed proof of registration (PoR), Afghan citizenship cards (ACC), an asylum seeker application issued by the UNHCR or a pre-screening slip issued by its partners.
It also called on the court to restrain the federation from “detaining, forcefully deporting or otherwise harassing anyone who was born in Pakistan and has a claim to birthright citizenship”.
It urged the court to direct the federation to permit UNHCR and its partner organisations to register and “expeditiously process and decide all asylum seeking applications filed by foreigners presently residing in Pakistan.”
It also called for the federation to be directed to coordinate with federal and provincial law enforcement agencies to “secure the fundamental rights of all persons for the time being in Pakistan”.
In a post on social media platform X, Nasir said that the petitioners had contended that protection be provided to registered refugees, while those whose asylum applications were pending should not be deported and their applications be expedited.
“We have further sought protection for all those who we consider have a birthright to be considered Pakistan nationals having been born in this country,” he said. Nasir said that Advocate Umer Ijaz Gilani would be leading the case for the petitioners.
Nasir also shared a press release issued by the petitioners which said that they were challenging the caretaker government’s “unconstitutional, illegal and inhumane policy of refoulement of at-risk asylum seekers and refugees residing in Pakistan since the past several decades”.
They said that not only was this policy beyond the interim government’s mandate, it was also “draconian and in contravention of national and international law”.
The petitioners said that those who were in possession of PoR cards and other relevant documentation were being “harassed, detained and expelled” under the garb of expelling those who were without.
“The forceful banishing of a people, including women and children, several of whom have been born on Pakistani soil […] and identify as Afghan only on the basis of ethnicity, from a place they so endearingly call home, is unprecedented.
“Such an arbitrary policy exhibits the sheer highhandedness of a state seemingly undeterred in demonizing a people on the basis of ethnicity, and raises a grave apprehension for each citizen of Pakistan who is now left at the mercy of a state which sacrifices equality, justice and fundamental human rights at the altar of ethnicity, caste and creed,” the petitioners said.
“It is nothing less than a crime to remain silent over the refoulement of fellow humans to imminent misery and persecution,” they added.