Pakistan Set to Expel 1.7 Million Afghan Refugees; Human Rights Commission Calls for Action

Islamabad, The Pakistan government’s recent decision to expel all undocumented foreigners by 1 November, predominantly Afghan nationals, has drawn sharp criticism from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The commission warns that the move, impacting an estimated 1.7 million Afghans, could precipitate a significant humanitarian crisis.

According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the HRCP expressed its strong reservations on what they term as a potential “forced repatriation”, highlighting that such an act goes against the grain of international customary law. It is emphasized that many among those facing deportation are particularly vulnerable, including women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, low-income individuals, and Afghans who are in danger due to their professions, with a significant number having fled their homeland after the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021.

The HRCP has noted with concern that despite mounting criticism from human rights organizations globally, the Pakistan government has not shown any inclination to rethink its stance. Disturbingly, the government has also reportedly stifled voices from civil society attempting to discuss this publicly. Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti has further stated intentions to proceed with deporting even those foreigners who possess valid documentation, including Afghans holding proof-of-residence cards. Recent press reports have already flagged the deportation of 77 documented Afghan refugees from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa before the set deadline. The HRCP also received alarming reports of harassment, intimidation, and arrests of Afghan refugees by law enforcement, following the official announcement.

While the HRCP acknowledges that the government may have genuine security-related concerns linked to certain undocumented foreign nationals, they firmly believe that humanitarian considerations should take precedence over security interests. The commission further pointed out that such sweeping decisions should not be the remit of a non-elected caretaker government.

While Pakistan has not ratified the 1951 Refugees Convention and does not possess a formal national asylum system, it is nonetheless bound by the universally accepted principle of non-refoulement. This principle prohibits the deportation of individuals to areas where they face genuine threats to their life or freedom, including coercion to return to dangerous zones. The HRCP believes that given the unstable conditions in Afghanistan, the government’s actions are in violation of these international norms.

In light of these concerns, the HRCP’s letter urgently appealed to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Among the requested actions are the extension of the 1 November deadline, ensuring the rights of documented migrants, and revising the outdated Foreigners Act 1946. The HRCP has also called on Pakistan to accede to the 1951 Refugees Convention and its 1967 Protocol.