Geneva – In a strong statement issued today, United Nations experts have called on Pakistan to immediately cancel its plans to deport 1.4 million Afghan nationals back to their home country. This decision by Pakistan, which has been a host to millions of Afghans for decades, has raised concerns about the safety and well-being of the affected individuals, especially in the wake of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and serious human rights concerns.
The Government of Pakistan recently announced its intention to deport all “undocumented” foreign nationals by November 1, 2023, with the threat of deportation to their countries of origin looming for those who fail to comply.
The proposed deportations would profoundly impact over 1.4 million Afghan nationals, many of whom sought refuge in Pakistan due to dire human rights circumstances and the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
The UN experts expressed deep concerns about the potential for refoulement of Afghan nationals to Afghanistan, including vulnerable groups such as families, women, and children. This raises concerns that these individuals could be exposed to irreparable harm, including serious human rights violations and abuses, upon their return to Afghanistan.
The experts stated, “We urge Pakistan to uphold the absolute and non-derogable principle of non-refoulement and prevent collective expulsion and forced return.”
Furthermore, they emphasized that the lack of domestic asylum laws and procedures does not exempt states from their obligations to uphold the principle of non-refoulement under international human rights and customary law. This prohibition is explicitly outlined in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Pakistan is a State party.
The UN experts had previously called on Pakistan to halt deportations of Afghan nationals following the Taliban’s takeover, expressing the need to reassess Afghanistan’s circumstances and human rights situation before considering any returns.
“Pakistan should stop all forced returns and continue to host Afghan nationals who fled for safety. The government must also ensure their full access to procedures where their individual human rights protection needs and their need for effective protection in line with international human rights and refugee standards are fully assessed,” the experts emphasized.
Reports of arrests, exploitation, and undignified treatment of Afghans living in Pakistan have also raised concerns, particularly since Pakistan announced its repatriation plans. The experts stressed that priority should be given to individuals with heightened protection needs, including Afghan women, girls, the elderly, former Afghan government officials, security personnel, human rights defenders, civil society activists, and media workers facing persecution based on gender, religious, or ethnic grounds.
While acknowledging Pakistan’s longstanding hospitality toward Afghan nationals, the experts called on the international community and Member States to facilitate the safe resettlement of Afghans at risk in other countries and ensure their protection.
The experts concluded their statement by urging Pakistan to continue collaborating with relevant UN entities to ensure the protection of those seeking safety within its borders.