KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday declined to issue notices on a petition filed against the deportation of illegal Afghan immigrants.

While questioning the maintainability of the petition, a two-judge bench headed by Justice Naimatullah Phulpoto asked the petitioners as to how the SHC could interfere in policy matters.

The bench also directed the lawyer for petitioners, Sara Malkani, to satisfy it as to how the petitioners were aggrieved persons.

Rights activist Sheema Kermani and 14 others petitioned the SHC and asked it to restrain the federal and provincial authorities concerned from detaining and deporting Afghans on the ground that it was beyond the mandate of a caretaker government to make such decision.

Bench seeks arguments on maintainability of petition filed by Sheema Kermani, others

At the outset of the hearing, the bench turned down the request of the lawyer for petitioners to issue notices to the respondents and remarked that the petition was impugning the state’s policy and how the court could intervene in such matter.

The counsel contended that the policy in question had been adopted by the caretaker government without the mandate to make such a decision.

The bench also observed that the petitioners had no standing since they were not directly aggrieved and added that the fundamental rights could not be claimed by non-citizens.

The lawyer cited a precedent of superior court and submitted that in public interest matters, an aggrieved person may be a concerned citizen genuinely seeking to uphold fundamental rights and Articles 9 and 10 referred to a person and not a citizen.

Justice Phulpoto remarked that the court would not intervene in the state’s policy and the foreigners illegally residing in Pakistan were being deported.

The bench also remarked that the petitioners should note that Saudi Arabia had far stricter polices than Pakistan about foreigners violating visa conditions.

It further said that the articles referred by the lawyer for petitioners were also pertaining to the citizens and people of Pakistan.

Adjourning the hearing for a date to be fixed after three weeks, the bench in its order said, “Counsel for petitioners is directed to satisfy the Court as to how the petitioners are aggrieved persons and as to how this Court can inference in the policy matters under Article 199 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973”.

Citing the chief secretary, ministry of interior and ministry of states and frontier regions as respondents, the petitioners submitted that on Oct 3, the unelected caretaker federal government had decided to rollback Pakistan’s 40-year-old policy protecting refugees and to expel all foreigners residing in Pakistan without a valid visa.

They submitted that around 1.32 million people had proof of registration cards (POR Cards) issued by the federal government in collaboration with UNHCR and nearly 840,000 had been issued Afghan citizen cards by the government in collaboration with the international organisation of migration while a large number of refugees including those who had come to Pakistan since Taliban’s takeover in 2021 and had submitted applications with UNHCR for POR cards and their applications were pending.

The petitioners also maintained that Sindh police had commenced the mass arrests of Afghan refugees including women and children to implement the plan of the caretaker federal government.

They alleged that the ongoing detention and deportation of persons alleged to be illegal immigrants were being made in violation of fundamental constitutional rights to due process, fair trial and opportunity for a hearing or legal representation.

They contended that the policy decision of the apex committee of the caretaker government about deportation made no distinction between refugees and illegal immigrants and respondents had failed to develop a rights-based legal and policy framework to regulate registration and voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2023

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