ISLAMABAD: Eight Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council of United Nations have warned that Afghan nationals forced to leave Pakistan since November 1, face risk of human rights violations upon return.

In a joint statement issued in Geneva on Wednesday, the UN experts said the Afghan nationals most likely to be affected include women and girls, victims of trafficking, religious and ethnic minorities, former government officials, persons with disabilities, older persons, and other refugees and migrants.

“We wish to caution the government of Pakistan that the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan (IFRP), which came into effect on 1 November 2023, does not include provisions for individual assessment of irreparable harm and risks that may be faced by Afghan nationals who are forced to return to Afghanistan,” the experts said.

The special rapporteurs are part of what is known as the ‘Spe­cial Procedures’ of the Hum­an Rights Council. Special Proce­du­res, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human ri­­ghts system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

They urged the international community to provide support for the hosting of Afghan refugees, including increased opportunities for resettlement, and rights-based family reunification. The experts have been in contact with the government of Pakistan about these concerns, the joint statement says.

“Afghan nationals, in particular, women and girls, face risks of being trafficked or re-trafficked in the country or during displacement. Persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities are particularly at risk of persecution upon return,” they warned.

“We are concerned that the adoption of the plan and failure to ensure effective protection for Afghan nationals may violate the absolute prohibition of refoulment under customary international law,” the UN experts said.

They warned that the plan would have a grave impact on women and girls, given the pattern of large-scale systematic human rights violations and discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan, amounting to gender persecution.

“Women and girls deported to Afghanistan risk being subjected to child and forced marriage, trafficking in persons, and denial of the rights to education, to work, and to freedom of movement and equal protection of the law,” the experts said.

“We are deeply concerned at allegations of forced evictions of Afghan nationals in Pakistan by landlords,” the experts stated. They also expressed concern at reported cases of arbitrary arrests of Afghan nationals in Pakistan, including children, since the beginning of 2023, warning that unsubstantiated linkages must not be drawn between the presence of refugees and migrants, and risks of terrorism.

“Pakistan has hosted Afghan nationals for more than two decades. It is critical now, that Afghan nationals continue to receive protection, without discrimination, and that the human rights of all migrants, refugees, victims of trafficking, and all those with continuing fear of persecution, including gender persecution, are ensured,” the experts said.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2023

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