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Pakistan urged to cease harassment and arrests of Afghan refugees

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KABUL: Amnesty International has called on the Government of Pakistan to immediately put an end to the arbitrary arrests and harassment of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom are escaping persecution by the Taliban. The organization’s appeal comes on World Refugee Day.

Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for South Asia, expressed deep concern over the lack of international attention given to the plight of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Trapped in an impossible situation with no viable options for return or permanent settlement, they face heightened vulnerability due to their uncertain legal status and the arduous asylum and relocation processes.

Amnesty International conducted nine remote interviews with Afghan refugees, including six who had been detained in Pakistan over the past three months. These cases represent just a fraction of the Afghan individuals seeking asylum in Pakistan, aiming to build new lives in the country or relocate to a third country through Pakistan. The harassment and threats they endure have intensified due to delays in the relocation processes and the expiration of their visas, leaving them in a legally precarious position.

Countries that have offered special relocation programs for Afghans at risk of Taliban persecution, such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany, are currently unable to issue visas within Afghanistan due to the absence of diplomatic representation. Meanwhile, the visa issuance process in Pakistan remains complex and time-consuming, with waiting times spanning several months. Germany, for instance, launched a humanitarian admission program for at-risk Afghans in October 2022, aiming to bring up to 1,000 individuals per month to Germany. However, as of June 2023, no Afghans have been relocated, and those directed by German authorities to travel to Pakistan for visa processing remain stranded there.

Afghan refugees interviewed by Amnesty International expressed their limited freedom of expression, as they are unable to voice their challenges publicly due to their precarious legal status. The situation is especially dire for women and girls who face discrimination in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Afghans lacking proper documentation to prove their legal status struggle to secure formal employment and often find themselves in low-wage jobs where they are vulnerable to exploitation. Additionally, the absence of a PoR card or visa makes it difficult for them to obtain SIM cards, set up bank accounts, or receive financial support from relatives. Landlords also exploit their lack of regular status documentation.

Even when possessing valid documents, Afghan refugees are often detained by Pakistani authorities using the Foreigners Act of 1946. Those recently detained have reported a lack of legal protections during their time in police custody, despite reaching out to human rights groups in Pakistan. Access to healthcare and education for their children is also a challenge, as some schools refuse enrollment due to the ambiguities surrounding their legal status. Women and girls, in particular, face significant hurdles when trying to enroll in schools in Pakistan due to gender discrimination.

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