The case of the Afghan refugees

On October 3, 2023, the Interior Minister issued an order requiring all illegal immigrants to leave Pakistan by November 1 or face deportation.

The statement was primarily aimed at Afghans. The legal status of Afghans, also known as "refugees," in Pakistan is frequently misunderstood. Mandatory and convention refugees are the two sorts of refugees.

Those recognized under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Statute of 1950 are referred to as mandate refugees.

Convention refugees are those who have been recognized by states parties to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and/or its 1967 Protocol.

Pakistan is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention, hence it has no convention for refugees.

Classification of Afghans

Afghans in Pakistan are classified into four groups:

(A) Prima facie refugees

(B) Mandate refugees

(C) Unlawful immigrants

(D) Outsiders

Following the Saur Revolution in April 1978, Pakistan welcomed millions of Afghans on humanitarian grounds. Thousands of Afghans have been designated refugees.

It is described as "the recognition of refugee status by a State based on the readily apparent, objective factors in the country of origin that gave rise to the exodus."

"Ensure admission to safety, prevention from refoulement, and basic humanitarian treatment to those who are demonstrably in need" is its stated objective (UNHCR, EC/GC/01/4, 19 February 2001).

Pakistan honors documentation provided by UNHCR to mandate refugees and prima facie refugees, as required by the 1993 cooperation agreement. They are not subject to arrest, custody, prosecution, or deportation.

They are also subject to the customary international law concept of non-refoulment.

Those whose asylum petitions are denied are given a short grace period by UNHCR to leave or regularize their stay in Pakistan, after which they are considered illegal immigrants and fall into the third category of Afghans.

As an alternative to the Refugee Convention protection system, the UNHCR-Pakistan cooperation agreement provides a good protection system. It is a common misconception that Pakistan has no structure in place for asylum seekers and refugees.

Afghans who are neither prima facie or mandate refugees would require permission (i.e., a visa) to remain in Pakistan, just as any Pakistani person would require a visa to enter and remain in Afghanistan.

Those who receive a visa will be treated as foreigners and will be able to stay in Pakistan for the duration of their visa. They are classified as Afghans in the fourth group.

There are 1.7 million Afghans who are not refugees or foreigners with legitimate Pakistani visas.

To suggest that all Afghans in Pakistan are refugees and are covered by the non-refoulment treaty is oversimplified.

India Makes Use Of Illegal Immigrants

Islamabad: Pakistan has every right to make whatever decisions it deems in its best interests, but India has made it a point to raise a fuss about them every now and then.

Islamabad just resolved to deport all illegal immigrants from the country, and the country has every legal authority to do so.

However, India has begun to accuse Pakistan of alleged maltreatment of Afghans, despite the fact that authorities have repeatedly said that the repatriation campaign is not targeted at any particular nationality.

However, New Delhi continued to wage bogus propaganda against Pakistan, exaggerating the situation in order to drive a wedge between Islamabad and Kabul.

Political analysts say that Pakistan's excessive hype about repatriating illegal immigrants, including Afghan nationals, is a face-saving move by India following the closing of the Afghan mission in New Delhi and the rejection of visas for Afghan students.

On the other hand, Afghans who have lived in India for the past 15 years have faced socioeconomic hardships due to a lack of a source of income, education, and health care.

On the contrary, Pakistan, despite not being a member of the 1951 Refugee Convention, offers Afghan citizens the legal status of refugees, allowing them to receive essential social services such as education and health.

India, on the other hand, has revoked Afghan student visas despite the fact that it knows thousands of Afghan students rely on its universities.

Policy Option For Pakistan

One of Pakistan's policy alternatives is to incorporate these immigrants into the Pakistani social fabric. It is possible to grant them citizenship if they stay in the country for a specified period of time without engaging in unlawful activities or committing crimes.

But, if that is not the policy path taken, the government should at the very least simplify their presence according to official norms, where they have rights and obligations comparable to, if not equal to, Pakistani citizens.

A more viable option would be for the Pakistani government to wait for conditions to improve in Afghanistan while proactively assisting Afghan authorities in accomplishing the same goal; this way, most refugees would return voluntarily, and forced repatriation would be unnecessary.

Sending the immigrants back to where they came from under the existing Afghan status quo negates their frantic attempt to seek a somewhat quiet future and amounts to referring the fleeing subjects back to the butcher.

Muhammad Faizan Anwar