UN Urges Halt to Pakistan’s Forcible Returns of Afghan Migrants

Afghan families wait to board into a bus to depart for their homeland, in Karachi, Pakistan, Oct. 6, 2023.
Afghan families wait to board into a bus to depart for their homeland, in Karachi, Pakistan, Oct. 6, 2023.

The United Nations agencies for migration and refugee protection Saturday jointly appealed to Pakistan to suspend plans to deport undocumented Afghan immigrants, warning they could be at imminent risk back in Afghanistan.

The appeal comes after Pakistan Tuesday ordered all immigrants in the country illegally, including some 1.7 million Afghan nationals, to leave by Nov. 1 or face deportation to their native countries. Many families have already left for Afghanistan to avoid arrest and forcible deportation, with the Pakistani information ministry issuing a daily countdown to remind those covered by the policy that days are running out for them.

“Afghanistan is going through a severe humanitarian crisis with several human rights challenges, particularly for women and girls,” said a joint statement from the International Organization for Migration and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. “Such plans would have serious implications for all who have been forced to leave the country and may face serious protection risks upon return,” it added.

Immigrants facing deportation included hundreds of thousands of families who fled Afghanistan after the hardline Taliban returned to power in Kabul in August 2021 and imposed sweeping restrictions on women’s access to education and work.

The U.N. statement recognized Islamabad’s “sovereign prerogative” over its domestic policies, the need to manage populations on Pakistani territory, and its obligations to ensure public safety and security.

The IOM and UNHCR, while appreciating Pakistan’s “generous hospitality” toward Afghan nationals for over four decades, despite challenges, repeated the call for all returns to be voluntary, safe, dignified, and without any pressure.

“The forced repatriation of Afghan nationals has the potential to result in severe human rights violations, including the separation of families and deportation of minors,” warned the U.N. agencies.

The warning comes a day after Pakistan pledged to repatriate all immigrants in the country illegally, including Afghans, in a “phased and orderly” manner instead of deportations.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch told reporters Friday that the decision to expel the migrants was in line with Pakistan’s laws and that the government was determined to enforce them.

Baloch said that the crackdown was not directed against Afghans only, saying the plan would target all foreigners who were overstaying their visas and did not possess valid documentation.

“This policy will apply to all individuals of all nationalities, and there is no discrimination in that respect,” she said. Baloch underscored that the campaign would not target the 1.4 million Afghan refugees in the country legally and hosted by Pakistan for years.

Pakistan has cited growing incidents of terrorism for ordering the undocumented Afghans to leave the country, saying that Afghan nationals carried out 14 out of 24 suicide bombings in the country this year.

Taliban authorities in Afghanistan have denounced the deportation of Afghans as “inhumane” and called for Pakistan to review the decision, saying the unauthorized immigrants are not involved in the security challenges facing Pakistan. They said Kabul is not allowing anyone to use Afghan soil against neighboring countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Baloch asserted Friday that militants linked to the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, are orchestrating terrorism against the country from Afghan sanctuaries. She said the issue is under discussion with Afghan officials.

“We believe that there are hideouts and sanctuaries of TTP inside Afghanistan. Many of the terrorist incidents that we have seen in recent weeks and months have connections with elements inside Afghanistan,” she said.

UN Urges Halt to Pakistan’s Forcible Returns of Afghan Migrants