The Plight of Asylum Seekers and Pakistan’s Inflexibility: All Visa-less Migrants to Face Deportation

Pakistan’s deadline for Afghan refugees expires today. The country’s Ministry of Interior has announced that the operation to detain and deport over one million migrants lacking proper residency documents will commence from November 1 of this year. The Interior Minister emphasized that the identification process for these individuals is complete, and the police will carry out their arrests across all regions of Pakistan. He stated that there would be no compromise for immigrants without visas. Afghan migrants in Pakistan claim that, even with visas, they face extensive challenges. They report that, in addition to forced deportations, the country’s police engage in extortion, humiliation, and torture. On the other hand, the United Nations, expressing concerns, has called for a halt to this process, warning that those expelled are at serious risk of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and other inhumane treatment by the Taliban.

Millions of Afghan migrants in Pakistan find themselves in dire straits due to forced expulsion by the government of Pakistan. Many of them, who sought refuge in Pakistan to escape the fear of detention, torture, and murder at the hands of the Taliban, now face the looming threat of compulsory deportation. Journalists, defense lawyers, female activists, human rights defenders, former security personnel, foreign forces’ partners, and Western countries’ contractors are among those who have been waiting for the processing of their migration cases by immigration-friendly countries in the past two years in Pakistan.

The interim government of Pakistan has stated that the process of expelling refugees without visas will be carried out in several stages, with no room for compromise. Mir Sarfraz Bugti, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, announced that, in the initial phase, migrants lacking valid legal documents will be deported. Subsequently, all asylum seekers registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) holding PoR cards will also face expulsion. This contrasts with the ministry’s earlier statement that PoR cardholders would not be subject to deportation.

According to the UNHCR, PoR cardholders have the right to reside in Pakistan, and according to the country’s 1946 law and other regulations, they cannot be detained without involvement in criminal activities.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister has emphasized that all asylum seekers lacking legal visas and those who have entered the country with fake identities will be expelled. He had previously warned that individuals who obtained Pakistani passports through illegal means would undergo DNA testing.

This comes as Pakistani police have, for the past month, been using various methods to alert and inform refugees that they must leave the country by November 1. A video of a police official from this country is circulating on social media, showing him announcing the Interior Ministry’s deadline through a mosque’s loudspeaker. In the video, he states, “All illegal Afghans are informed to leave the area immediately.” He urges Pakistani citizens to evict Afghan migrants who do not possess residence visas from their homes.

According to the directive from the Pakistani Ministry of Interior, homeowners of refugee accommodations whose residence visas have expired have been requested to vacate their rented houses by the first of November. Currently, thousands of refugees are in a state of distress, emphasizing that they have applied for visa extensions. Still, the Pakistani Ministry of Interior has not issued their visas, and they lack the means to purchase visas through the black market.

Jamshid (pseudonym) is one of the Afghan journalists who has relocated to Pakistan due to security threats. Speaking with the Hasht-e Subh Daily, he expresses frustration over the lack of a clear policy by the Pakistani government towards refugees. Jamshid states, “Pakistan’s policy on refugees is unclear. Every day, the authorities of this country make new statements. They previously said that those registered with the UNHCR would not be deported, but now they have stated again that anyone registered with the United Nations will be expelled.”

This journalist adds that his life is in danger, and if he is deported to Afghanistan, the Taliban will detain him. He emphasizes, “Our lives are at risk. We have visas, but they don’t extend our visas. These are our problems. Our request to the United Nations and the Pakistani government is that they do not deport those whose lives are in danger.”

Jamshid is critical of the behavior of Pakistani police towards refugees. He states, “Those who are imprisoned are held in deplorable conditions in Pakistani prisons and are later transferred with problems to the border. Two days ago, a vehicle transporting migrants overturned, resulting in two fatalities and 25 injuries. The vehicle had a capacity for 22 people, but they had overloaded it with about 50.”

Meanwhile, yesterday, dozens of women’s rights defense lawyers who sought refuge in Pakistan following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan gathered outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office and demanded that the forced expulsion of migrants from Pakistan, which contradicts human rights values, be stopped.

Afghan refugees in Pakistan have lodged a protest in front of the United Nations office following the recent detention of dozens of individuals by Pakistani police at the gate of the SHARP which is a partner with the United Nations. A video released in the media depicts Pakistani police violently apprehending some asylum seekers in front of the Human Rights and Prisoners’ Aid Association (SHARP) office, which refers migration cases to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

This development comes as per Pakistani media reports, over the past month, more than 33,055 migrants without proper residency documents have been repatriated to Afghanistan through the Torkham border. The expelled refugees comprised 2,772 families, including 8,309 men, 5,457 women, and 19,789 children.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed concerns over the forced expulsion of over 1.4 million migrants and has urged Pakistan to prevent a humanitarian human rights catastrophe.

Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the OHCHR, stated in Geneva, “We believe that many of those facing expulsion, upon return to Afghanistan, would be at serious risk of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, cruel torture, and other inhumane treatment.” She emphasized, “We urge Pakistani authorities to halt the forced return of Afghan nationals before it’s too late to prevent a human rights catastrophe.” According to her, as the winter season approaches, any mass expulsion would exacerbate the dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Simultaneously, Amnesty International, in an open letter to Pakistan’s interim Prime Minister, has called for the immediate cancellation of the decision to forcibly expel Afghan migrants. Additionally, Malala Yousafzai, a human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has called for the cessation of the forced expulsion of migrants from Pakistan.

However, the Taliban have announced the establishment of a special commission under the leadership of Abdul Salam Hanafi, the administrative deputy of their prime minister, to address Afghan migrants who are being forcibly expelled from Pakistan and other countries. The Taliban has stated that this commission has commenced its activities by creating 12 committees based on an eight-season, 31-article plan. The commission is tasked with registering, identifying, transporting, providing primary healthcare services, and building temporary shelters for migrants.

It should be noted that millions of migrants these days are seeking refuge in places that are out of the reach of the Pakistani police due to fear of detention and concerns about forced expulsion in various cities of Pakistan. Women, children, and individuals with disabilities are in dire physical and mental conditions.

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