The many-sided serious problems and risks being faced by nearly 1.7 million Afghan refugees who are without the documents considered essential by the Pakistan government have been the subject of much concern recently. With the bulk of these refugees being forcibly deported, this appears to be a new humanitarian crisis in the making as most of these people who have been asked to leave at a very short notice are not at all sure of where they will settle, at a time when the harsh winter has set in and an overwhelming majority of people in Afghanistan are already short of meeting their basic needs, having faced adverse weather conditions, drought, floods and earthquakes in recent times.
In a recent statement Amnesty International has presented a strong case for stopping this deportation. This statement titled ‘Pakistan– Halt Mass Detention and Deportation of Afghan Refugees’ was issued on November 10 and has also captured the situation that has emerged after the deadline of November 1 for leaving decided by the Pakistani government.
This statement has stated, “The government of Pakistan must immediately halt the continued detentions, deportations and widespread harassment of Afghan refugees.” The statement has stated that the Pakistan government will do well to remember its international obligations in this regard.
Further this statement says, “If the Pakistan government doesn’t halt the deportation immediately, it will be denying thousands of at-risk Afghans, especially women and girls, access to safety, education and livelihood.”
This statement tells us that since the expiry of the 1 November deadline imposed by the Government of Pakistan, the police have moved from registering cases under the Foreigners’ Act to directly detaining refugees deemed ‘illegal’ at deportation centers.
Amnesty International has also expressed concern about the “complete lack of transparency, due process and accountability” in the detention and deportation in the preceding week.
According to the Pakistan government, 49 detention centers (also referred to as ‘holding’ or ‘transit’ centers) have been set up, with the possibility of more being opened. Amnesty confirmed in the context of at least 7 of these centers that legal rights in the form of access to lawyers and communication with family members were being denied to detainees. Some of the detainees cannot even explain their problems or case properly due to language problems.
Such Centers, Amnesty International has stated, are in violation of right to liberty and a fair trial.
What is more, no information is made public making it difficult for their families and friends to trace those who have been detained.
Many-sided harassment including even cash confiscation have been reported in the case of searches made under deportation efforts, and some of those having the necessary documents may also face some of this harassment.
Several settlements where Afghan refugees were living earlier in Islamabad have been demolished. Public announcements have been made that anyone sheltering Afghan refugees will be arrested. Rents for refugees have been raised. Minority refugees may suffer even more as seen at the time of the recent closure of a shelter housing Christian refugees.
200 Afghan journalists also face the risk of deportation. One of them has stated that he may be killed if deported.
Keeping in view all these considerations, Amnesty International has asked the Pakistan government to respect internationally recognized human rights laws and stop these deportations. This recommendation of Amnesty International is in line with several other appeals that have been made in recent times.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and A Day in 2071.