The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) strongly condemns the Government of Pakistan’s decision to expel over 1.4 million Afghan nationals, including unregistered refugees, forcibly removing them to a country where many, especially women and girls, have a well-founded fear of persecution. The organization is deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of people who have been left with no choice but to flee under threats of arrest or deportation, as cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, and instances of ill-treatment, are reported.
“The forcible removal of Afghans is particularly egregious considering the ongoing humanitarian crises in Afghanistan and the current political climate following the Taliban takeover. Returning anyone there, especially women and girls, is fraught with risks. The expulsion of refugees and asylum seekers violates the principle of non-refoulement under international law, which prohibits the forcible removal of anyone to a country or place where they would have a well-founded fear of persecution, such as a real risk of being tortured or otherwise ill-treated or other serious human rights violations”, said Melissa Upreti, ICJ Asia Director.
Estimates indicate that there are over 1.4 million undocumented Afghans in Pakistan, in addition to some 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees. On 3 October 2023, the Government of Pakistan announced its plans to repatriate “illegal foreigners.” This was followed by a circular stating that Afghan Citizen Cardholders and those with Proof of Registration would be exempted. The deadline for Afghan nationals to leave Pakistan was 1 November, and has recently been extended to 31 December 2023, following significant international pressure. However, there have been reports of these exemptions not being applied and Afghans facing increasing harassment and pressure from local authorities.
UN agencies have called attention to the possibility of a serious escalation in human rights violations resulting from the separation of families and deportation of minors as the Pakistani authorities implement their plans. Since August 2021, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has urged States not to return Afghan nationals to Afghanistan given that the country continues to be affected by recurrent conflict, instability and climate-induced disasters.
The ICJ and its partners have documented detailed evidence of gender-based persecution of women and girls in Afghanistan, as a direct result of the mounting draconian restrictions on their human rights and freedoms since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, in a joint report released earlier this year with Amnesty International. In light of the gravity and systematic nature of the restrictions and prohibitions that women and girls face in Afghanistan, the two human rights organizations recommended that all Afghan women and girls outside Afghanistan should be considered prima facie refugees and granted international protection.
“There is no evidence of a change in the de facto authority’s mode of governance, which centres on the oppression of women and girls and severe deprivation of their fundamental rights. If anything, there is evidence that the situation for women and girls in Afghanistan has become worse. Expelling Afghan nationals from Pakistan, especially women and girls, along with their families and forcing them back to Afghanistan puts them at a real risk of persecution or other forms of serious harm for which no legal recourse is available in Afghanistan,” added Upreti.
Citing concerns about a breach of international law obligations by Pakistan, a number of UN Special Rapporteurs have said in a joint letter that, “the lack of domestic asylum laws and procedures does not absolve States of their obligations to uphold the principles of non-refoulement under international human rights and customary law.”
Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) has urged the Government to refrain from conducting the deportations and called for adherence to relevant provisions in national and international law pertaining to refugees.
Thousands of Afghans have already crossed the border and with the recent postponement of the deadline to leave the county, the fate of over a million Afghans hangs in the balance. The ICJ calls on the Government of Pakistan to immediately:
- Rescind the expulsion order, cease further deportations and harassment of Afghans and comply instead with its international law obligations,
- Create pathways for women, girls and their families who have been forced to leave under the order to safely return.
- Consult with civil society, members of the Afghan community living in Pakistan, the NCHR, and relevant international organizations in the development of appropriate policies.
Raquel Saavedra, ICJ Legal Adviser, e: firstname.lastname@example.org
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