Pakistan’s Forced Deportation
of Afghans:

The Pakistan’s Policy and the Violation of Principle of Non-Refoulement

by Marta Saraiva de Aragão,
revised by Ana Grolli

Pakistan’s actions towards Afghans, considering the background of the crisis Afghanistan is facing, seems to constitute a violation of several international law rules and human rights principles.

©UNHCR

Historical Background

Since September 2023, the Pakistani authorities have obliged more than one million Afghans to return to their country. Pakistan made an ultimatum with Afghans by establishing November 1st of 2023 as the deadline for them to forcibly leave Pakistan. In the case this limit isn’t compiled, the Pakistan government would take measures such as expulsion from the territory. [1]

Until this announcement was made by the Pakistani government on October 3rd, the reality was that more than one million and a half Afghans were seeking asylum there. There are also Afghani descendants borned in Pakistan that never went to Afghanistan. [3] To force Afghans to leave, Pakistani authorities are committing several acts that constitute violations of the international norms such as “(…) mass detentions, seized property and livestock, and destroyed identity documents (…)” [4] Furthermore, women and children are facing sexual harassment and being threatened with sexual assaults by the police. Until the present moment, the authorities have obliged over than 375 000 Afghans back to Afghanistan and deported 20 000. [5]

Afghanistan has been facing a huge humanitarian crisis for about decades now, as this upheaval is mainly characterised as facing extreme poverty, lack of basic needs, such as food, water, access to healthcare and a place to live, beyond others. Also, the ISIS-Taliban conflict is still ongoing in some parts of Afghanistan. As a result of the conflict, Afghans are victims of terrifying acts by the Taliban regime such as “extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and unlawful detention (…).” [6]

A demonstration of the consequences of the recent Pakistan policy of forcibly expelling Afghans on November 1st, is the situation of Abdul. Abdul, who has a baby son, lived with his family in Pakistan for about 23 years as in the night before the deadline to leave the country, they packed all the things and during the night, they reached the border of the country with Afghanistan. According to him, “It was better to leave than being caught and arrested by the police.”, “In 24 hours, our lives changed.” [7]

International Laws and Principles/Rules at Stake

Pakistani government policy of establishing a deadline and a consequence of expulsion of Afghans and repatriation plan, is a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, a customary international law principle and the cornerstone of the international refugee law regime, enshrined in the Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, that argues the prohibition by States to return refugees back to their country of origin where they would face torture, cruel and inhuman treatment and persecution by the government of their country. [8] This principle is also present in Article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), [9] in which Pakistan is a state party. [10]

Although Pakistan isn’t a state party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has an agreement with both Afghanistan and UNHCR since 2003, in which it committed to grant Afghans refugees several rights as it also facilitates the process of them voluntarily returning to their country. Also, “Afghan refugees who reside within Pakistan are entitled to certain international legal obligations”. [11]

The Pakistani government also breach human rights, regarding women and children with reports by Afghan women stating that “Pakistani police had sometimes sexually harassed some Afghan women and girls and threatened them with sexual assault.” [12] The country in question would also violate human rights by returning Afghans to their country of origin.

Legal Consequences and Potential Solutions

The violation of the Principle of Non-Refoulement has serious legal consequences to Pakistan namely the accountability of Pakistan for the mass breach of human rights, principles of international law, for its deportation policy, along with the coercive measures and egregious violence Pakistan’s authorities are committing against Afghans, including women and children, as well as acts such as illegal detentions and sexual harassment.

The international actors must take into consideration this huge humanitarian crisis as “Foreign governments (…) should press Islamabad at least, to revise the unrealistic timeline it has announced, in particular pressing Pakistan and Afghanistan to reach an agreement for gradual repatriations, in a manner that does not breach legal and humanitarian rules, norms and principles.” [13]

Also, “Working with the Pakistani government, UN agencies should further press Pakistani law enforcement to respect the protections afforded by refugee status. (…) For their part, the Taliban should step up efforts to bring in returnees and abide by their protective duties, treating these people humanely and with dignity.” [14]

Conclusion

In conclusion, the mass influx of Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan, most of them since their birth, along with their families, in the border with Afghanistan, as the result of the deportation policy by the Pakistan government, is a serious contravention of the principle of non-refoulement and many other international law principles and rules.

Pakistani authorities have also been practising egregious forms of violence against Afghans, women, and children in order to “put in practice” their repatriation plan. Afghans have been suffering at the hands of the Pakistani government as the only option that seems to have been to return to the hands of the Taliban regime in a country facing a major humanitarian crisis nowadays.

The principle of non-refoulement, especially its implementation, depends mostly on the commitment of States to consider it. Pakistan, as a party to the Convention against Torture, has the legal (and moral) obligation to respect this principle. However, Pakistan’s returnee policy against Afghans demonstrates the clear violation by the country of this principle.

References

[1] UNHCR, https://www.unhcr.org/news/forced-returns-pakistan-deepen-afghanistan-s-humanitarian-crisis

[2] UNHCR, https://www.unhcr.org/news/forced-returns-pakistan-deepen-afghanistan-s-humanitarian-crisis

[3] Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/11/28/pakistan-widespread-abuses-force-afghans-leave

[4] Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/11/28/pakistan-widespread-abuses-force-afghans-leave

[5] Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/11/28/pakistan-widespread-abuses-force-afghans-leave

[6] Amnesty International, https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/asia-and-the-pacific/south-asia/afghanistan/report-afghanistan/

[7] UNHCR, https://www.unhcr.org/news/forced-returns-pakistan-deepen-afghanistan-s-humanitarian-crisis

[8] UNHCR, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, https://www.unhcr.org/media/convention-and-protocol-relating-status-refugees

[9] OHCHR, Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/cat.pdf

[10] JURIST, Pakistan’s Forced Deportation of Afghan Refugees: A Violation of Human Rights and International Law, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2023/11/pakistans-forced-deportation-of-afghan-refugees-a-violation-of-human-rights-and-international-law/

[11] JURIST, Pakistan’s Forced Deportation of Afghan Refugees: A Violation of Human Rights and International Law, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2023/11/pakistans-forced-deportation-of-afghan-refugees-a-violation-of-human-rights-and-international-law/

[12] Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/11/28/pakistan-widespread-abuses-force-afghans-leave

[13] Bahiss, Ibraheem, Pakistan’s Mass Deportation of Afghans Poses Risks to Regional Stability, International Crisis Group, https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-asia/pakistan-afghanistan/pakistans-mass-deportation-afghans-poses-risks-regional-stability

[14] Bahiss, Ibraheem, Pakistan’s Mass Deportation of Afghans Poses Risks to Regional Stability, International Crisis Group, https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-asia/pakistan-afghanistan/pakistans-mass-deportation-afghans-poses-risks-regional-stability

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