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UNHCR concerned over consequences of Pakistan deportation orders for Afghan nationals..

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The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expressed concerns during a Tuesday press briefing over Pakistan’s orders for undocumented foreigners to leave the country, saying that the directive has caused fear and panic within Afghan communities. The UNHCR representative in Pakistan, Philippa Candler, cited adverse consequences for Afghan nationals, including registered refugees and individuals with valid documents.

The UNHCR has noted a surge in arrests, detentions and deportations of Afghans in Pakistan since the deportation plan was announced on October 3. The agency says that an estimated 374,000 people have returned to Afghanistan. It adds that the deportation order and the government’s subsequent actions have instigated a sense of panic, even for registered Afghan refugees.

Given the situation, the UNCHR said, “We have been reiterating our call that any return to Afghanistan should be voluntary, safe and dignified, irrespective of legal status in Pakistan.” The agency urged the Pakistani government to implement a screening mechanism to identify individuals requiring international support, offering help to establish a system “that addresses the legitimate concerns of the Government of Pakistan as well as Afghans seeking safety on its territory.”

Several human rights organizations have also sounded alarms about the risk of human rights violations Afghan nationals face in light of Pakistan’s deportation order, calling on the Pakistani government to cease detentions, deportations and harassment of Afghan refugees. According to Amnesty International, the deportation centres set up by the Pakistani government do not protect the detainees’ rights to legal representation, liberty and a fair trial.

Under international human rights law and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), countries are bound not to return migrants to a state “where they would face torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and other irreparable harm,” irrespective of their legal status. Pakistan, having ratified the UNCAT in 2010, is bound by this principle of non-refoulement.

Many Afghans who were encouraged to apply for resettlement programs in countries like the US, the UK, Canada and Germany now find themselves vulnerable to detention and deportation due to expired documentation and lengthy resettlement processes. Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch urged these countries to act, saying, “Countries that promised to provide at-risk Afghans with resettlement abroad should live up to their promises.”

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