Pakistan: Government must stop mass detention and deportation of Afghan refugees – new testimonies

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More than 170,000 Afghans forced to leave the country

Afghans face harsh system lacking transparency, due process and accountability in the detentions and deportations taking place

‘I am on several lists maintained by the Taliban and I am certain I will be killed if I go back’ - Afghan journalist

‘If the Pakistani government doesn’t halt the deportations immediately, it will be denying thousands of at-risk Afghans access to safety’ - Livia Saccardi

The Government of Pakistan must immediately halt the continued detentions, deportations and widespread harassment of Afghan refugees, said Amnesty International today.

According to the Government, more than 170,000 Afghans, many of whom have lived in Pakistan for decades, have had to leave the country since 17 September when the Government announced that all ‘unregistered foreign nationals’ had to leave Pakistan by 1 November.

Since then the police have moved from registering cases under the Foreigners Act, which among other things criminalises illegal entry into Pakistan, to directly detaining refugees deemed ‘illegal’ at deportation centres.

Amnesty is concerned by the complete lack of transparency, due process and accountability in the detentions and deportations taking place over the last week. This has been exacerbated by increased incidents of harassment and hostility against Afghan refugees in the country.

Livia Saccardi, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigns Deputy Director, said:

“Thousands of Afghan refugees are being used as political pawns to be returned to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan where their life and physical integrity could be at risk amidst an intensified crackdown on human rights and an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.

“No one should be subjected to mass forced deportations, and Pakistan would do well to remember its international legal obligations, including the principle of non-refoulement.

“If the Pakistani government doesn’t halt the deportations immediately, it will be denying thousands of at-risk Afghans, especially women and girls, access to safety, education and livelihood.

“The Government, along with UNHCR, must accelerate the registration of applicants seeking refuge in Pakistan, particularly women and girls, journalists, and those belonging to minority and ethnic communities as they face heightened risks.”

Denied information of where people are taken

According to the Government, 49 detention centres have been set up across Pakistan, though there may be more. Amnesty has verified that in at least seven detainees are being denied such rights as access to a lawyer or communication with family members in violation of their right to liberty and a fair trial. Also, no information is being made public, making it hard for families to trace their loved ones.

Maryam*, an Afghan activist in Islamabad told Amnesty that on 2 November several Afghan refugees were detained at the Shalimar Police station and “those without documentation were sent for deportation while their family members were given no information about where they were taken or when they would be deported”.

In another incident, a 17-year-old boy was detained in a raid in Karachi on 3 November. Despite being born in Pakistan, holding a Proof of Registration card issued by the UNHCR and being a minor, his family was not given access to the detention centre where he was held and he was deported the next day; and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Amnesty has confirmed with journalists across Pakistan that the media has also not been given access to these centres, raising serious questions of transparency.

Junaid*, an Afghan refugee who was detained for more than four hours on 3 November at the Khayaban-i-Sir Syed holding centre in Islamabad, said there weren’t enough translators to translate the complex documentation:

“There is a sense of fear among the Afghan community… we live in constant anxiety, we lock our doors as soon as we hear any police cars in the area.”

Ongoing harassment

Several instances of harassment have also been reported to Amnesty including Afghan traders in Akbari Mandi in Lahore who were searched for documentation by people in plain clothes claiming to be police on 24 October who confiscated Rs.500,000 (£1,443.65) in cash and on 1 November, at least 12 small business owners who had valid Afghan Citizen Cards were detained for more than 24 hours at police stations in Lahore without having the opportunity to put their case forward in court or challenging a report filed against them.

Since the expulsion the Government announced that anyone found to be providing accommodation to Afghan refugees without documentation will be fined or arrested.

Farah*, a woman journalist living in Peshawar, said that while most Afghans are being turned away, “the landlords that are offering concessions are charging five times the rent that they normally would”.

Since early October, several informal settlements housing Afghan refugees have been demolished in Islamabad by the Capital Development Authority with little due process or warning, resulting in homes and people’s possessions being destroyed.

Afghan journalists at risk

Asad* an Afghan journalist hiding in Pakistan since the Taliban takeover in 2021, said: 

“Even though I entered Pakistan on a valid visa and have applied for renewal, I do not have anything to show the authorities if they turn up at my doorstep. I have stopped sending my children to school for the past two weeks…”  

He and his family fled Afghanistan when his friends and colleagues were murdered after the Taliban came to power. “I am on several lists maintained by the Taliban and I am certain I will be killed if I go back,” he said.

Approximately 200 Afghan journalists are at risk in Pakistan according to the Pakistan-Afghan International Forum of Journalists.

Many women in Afghan-majority settlements live in extreme and constant anxiety. Human rights lawyer Moniza Kakar, who is representing cases of Afghan refugees in Karachi, said:

“Many women are sleeping fully covered (in veils) because they are afraid of night-time police raids by male police officers.”

Pakistani women married to Afghan refugees face a heightened risk of deportation because they lack proper documentation due to cultural and economic barriers in Pakistan.

Afghan refugees who are from religious minorities face the double threat of persecution when they are deported, an activist working with Christian refugee communities in Islamabad, Chaman and Quetta, said a shelter housing a dozen Christian refugee families was forced to shut down after police raids.

 

*Names changed to protect identity

 

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