ISLAMABAD: The UN Refugee Agency, has raised concerns over Pakistan’s announcement for undocumented foreigners to leave, as the orders have adversely affected Afghan nationals including registered refugees and others with valid documents.
UNHCR Representative in Pakistan Philippa Candler told a press briefing at UN European headquarters in Geneva on Tuesday that mass arrivals back to Afghanistan were adding to the ongoing humanitarian crisis, as winter temperatures in some locations dip to as low as -4°C.
Since Pakistan’s announcement of the repatriation plan on October 3, an estimated 374,000 people have returned to Afghanistan. “We are witnessing an exponential increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of Afghans in Pakistan. Many Afghan returnees are vulnerable, including women and children who could lose their lives in a harsh winter if left without adequate shelter,” the official said.
He explained that the Afghans interviewed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan said they were leaving in a rush, fearing arrest and detention.
All registered Afghan refugees are exempt from the government’s orders, but the announcement and follow-up actions created a sense of panic.
“We have been reiterating our call that any return to Afghanistan should be voluntary, safe and dignified, irrespective of legal status in Pakistan. We have urged the Government of Pakistan to put in place a screening mechanism to identify individuals in need of international protection,” the UNHCR official said.
Published in Dawn, November 22th, 2023