UN warns Pakistan that forcibly deporting Afghans could lead to severe human rights violations

ISLAMABAD — Forcibly deporting Afghans from Pakistan could lead to severe human rights violations — including the separation of families and deportation of minors, the United Nations warned Saturday.

Pakistan recently announced a crackdown on migrants living in the country illegally, including 1.7 million Afghans, telling them to return to their home countries by Oct. 31 to avoid mass arrest and expulsion.

The government denies targeting Afghans and says the focus is on people who are in the country illegally, regardless of their nationality. It said it is setting up a hotline and offering rewards to people who tip off authorities about such migrants.

The U.N. agencies said Afghanistan is going through a severe humanitarian crisis, particularly for women and girls, who are banned by the Taliban from education beyond sixth grade, most public spaces and many jobs.

“Such plans would have serious implications for all who have been forced to leave the country and may face serious protection risks upon return,” it said, referring to Pakistan’s crackdown.

They acknowledged Pakistan’s “sovereign prerogative” over domestic policies and said they are ready to help register and manage Afghan nationals, including those who may be in need of international protection.

The International Organization for Migration and the U.N. refugee agency called on countries to “suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals and ensure any possible returns to the country take place in a safe, dignified and voluntary manner.”

Landlords and real estate owners in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, have received notices telling them to evict “illegal Afghans” and their families by the end of the month or face action.

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Police have asked clerics in some of the city’s mosques to tell worshippers of their duty to inform on Afghans in their neighborhoods.

Over 2,000 people were arrested across the country since the crackdown began earlier this week.

Police in southern Sindh province have detained some 1,100 Afghan nationals, according to Inspector General Riffat Mukhtar. He said the courts released about 300 after they provided their documents. The rest remain in prison awaiting deportation to Afghanistan.

In Islamabad, police are using social media and TV tickers to create public awareness about the anti-migrant policy, said force spokesperson Taqi Jawad. He said police have so far not used mosques and clerics for this purpose.

Of the 1,126 Afghans detained in Islamabad during the past few days, 503 have been charged with staying in the country illegally. They will stay behind bars until their deportation said Jawad, who denied that officers are harassing Afghans.

The information minister in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, Jan Achakzai, said hundreds of Afghan families have voluntarily left the country and crossed the border since the announcement. Authorities have detained more than 100 people, including Afghans and Iranians, he said.

Rights groups and the Taliban-led administration in Afghanistan have criticized the crackdown.

Pakistan has been a haven for Afghan refugees since millions fled Afghanistan during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation, creating one of the world’s largest refugee populations. More Afghans have fled since then, including an estimated 100,000 since the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021.

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The charge d’affaires at the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad expressed concern about the “increased pressure and hasty expulsion” of Afghan migrants.

According to an embassy statement, Sardar Ahmad Shakeeb met the U.N. refugee agency’s new Pakistan representative, Philippa Candler, and asked her to urgently address the situation.

He said there were numerous reports of Afghans with valid documents being detained, humiliated, harassed and mistreated before their release.

Although Pakistani security forces and police have routinely arrested and deported Afghans who have entered the country without valid documents in recent years, this is the first time the government has announced plans for such a major crackdown.

It comes amid a spike in attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, who have hideouts and bases in Afghanistan but regularly cross into Pakistan to stage attacks on its security forces.

On Saturday, a police patrol in Pakistan’s northwest came under rocket fire, killing the driver and wounding a soldier. The TTP claimed responsibility for the assault in Buner district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Pakistan has long demanded that the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan cease their support for the TTP, which is a separate group but allied with the Afghan Taliban.

The Taliban deny providing sanctuary to the TTP.

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Abdul Sattar contributed to this report from Balochistan, Adil Jawad Khan contributed from Karachi.

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