U.N. agencies are warning that Pakistan’s planned expulsion of more than a million “undocumented” foreign nationals risks triggering a human rights catastrophe.
They are appealing to Pakistani authorities to suspend these deportations as a November 1 deadline looms for the forcible return of 1.4 million Afghan nationals to Afghanistan where many will likely be at grave risk of human rights violations.
“We are very worried that those who are deported face a whole host of human rights violations including torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, severe discrimination, and lack of access to basic economic and social needs,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
She said women are of particular concern as the de facto Taliban rulers “have attempted to completely erase them from any public presence in society — from the workplace, from schools, from even public parks.”
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, reports Pakistan currently is hosting 3.7 million Afghan refugees, 700,000 of whom fled Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August 2021. It says about 1.7 million are deemed to be in Pakistan illegally, with little legal protection or means to get asylum.
Pakistan says Afghans who are registered as refugees do not have to worry about being deported. It says only those people, regardless of nationality, who are in the country illegally will be returned to their home countries.
The UNHCR and International Organization for Migration report nearly 60,000 Afghans have returned to Afghanistan since October 3 when Pakistan announced its November 1 deportation deadline. The agencies say 78 percent of those returning to Afghanistan cite fear of arrest as the reason for leaving Pakistan.
“We have appealed to Pakistan to continue its protection of all vulnerable Afghans who have sought safety in the country and could be at imminent risk if forced to return,” said Matthew Saltmarsh, UNHCR spokesperson.
“UNHCR appreciates the announcements by Pakistan to exclude registered refugees and other categories of vulnerable Afghans from this exercise,” he said but noted that Afghanistan was going through a severe humanitarian crisis with several human rights challenges, particularly for women and girls.
Besides women and girls, others at particular risk include civil society activists, journalists, human rights defenders, former government officials, and security force members.
“As winter approaches, any mass deportations are bound to deepen the dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, as it grapples with the devastating impact of a series of earthquakes that struck Herat Province this month,” said Shamdasani.
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, the Herat disaster has directly affected more than 66,000 people, killed about 1,500, and injured nearly 2000.
Shamdasani said that U.N. human rights monitors in Afghanistan have raised their concerns with the de facto authorities of the international human rights obligations that continue to bind Afghanistan as a state and “their obligations to protect, promote and fulfil human rights.”
At the same time, she said Pakistan too must “continue providing protection to those in need and ensure that any future returns are safe, dignified, and voluntary and fully consistent with international law.
“As the November 1 deadline approaches,” she said, “we urge the Pakistan authorities to suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals before it is too late to avoid a human rights catastrophe.”