Pakistan

‘Return must be voluntary’, UN on Pakistan’s plan to evict Afghan refugees

Following the caretaker government’s announcement to deport over 1 million “illegal immigrants” by the November 1 deadline, the United Nations (UN) has emphasized that refugees residing in Pakistan should have the option to leave the country voluntarily without facing any coercion, stated Qaisar Khan Afridi, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The interim government had earlier issued a directive for all illegal immigrants, including 1.73 million Afghan nationals, to leave voluntarily or face expulsion. Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti revealed that 14 out of 24 suicide bombings in the country this year were carried out by Afghan nationals, prompting the decision.

Afridi stressed the importance of ensuring that any refugee return should be voluntary and free from pressure to safeguard the safety of those seeking refuge. He expressed concern about reports suggesting the deportation of undocumented Afghans and sought clarification from the government. Afridi urged Pakistan to create a plan that protects Afghan nationals with international protection, highlighting Pakistan’s four-decade-long generosity in hosting refugees. He acknowledged the challenges faced by those fleeing persecution, especially regarding the lack of necessary documents and travel permissions.

Additionally, Afridi stated that the UNHCR is prepared to assist Pakistan in developing a mechanism to manage and register individuals in need of international protection within its borders, addressing specific vulnerabilities. He emphasized Pakistan’s longstanding role as a refugee host, acknowledging its global recognition in this regard. Notably, Pakistan has hosted a significant number of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of Kabul in 1979. Furthermore, Pakistan has maintained concerns about militants, including those from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), using Afghan soil to train fighters and plan attacks within Pakistan.

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