Pak ultimatum to Af refugees horrible

Pakistan’s ultimatum to Afghan refugees living on its soil to leave the country by end-March or face deportation gives the latter no choice but to return home. They are being forcibly repatriated. In its latest report, “Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity: The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleges that since July 2016, Pakistani authorities have carried out a campaign of harassment, abuse and intimidation to drive out nearly 6,00,000 Afghans. This is a matter of serious concern for several reasons.

For one, the situation in Afghanistan is neither secure nor stable; violence, civilian deaths and displacement touched record highs last year. Pakistan’s decision to force refugees out of its territory is callous. It is an illegal action too. The 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1968 protocol confer on refugees the right to non-refoulement. Of course, Pakistan could argue that it is not a signatory to these refugee treaties and hence not bound by their provisions. However, forced repatriation is forbidden by international customary law too. It is widely believed that Pakistan’s decision to send back the refugees stems from the deterioration in its relations with Afghanistan and Kabul’s cozying up to Delhi. South Asian geopolitics has triggered yet another upheaval in the lives of lakhs of Afghan refugees.

The role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the unfolding tragedy is distressing. The refugee agency appears to be complicit in the forced repatriation. Instead of stoutly opposing Pakistan’s crackdown on the refugees, it is offering money to the returning refugees. The payment may be well-intended; it is probably aimed at providing the refugees with ‘cash support’ or seed money to begin a new life in Afghanistan. However, on the ground, this ‘cash support’ is luring to get the refugees to leave Pakistan. The UNHCR’s provision of such monetary inducements without strongly and unequivocally condemning the Pakistani government’s crackdown on the refugees is fuelling the perception that the refugee agency is supporting Islamabad’s action. The UNHCR should not be operating in a way that weakens its credibility as an agency that is committed to protecting the rights of refugees.

Pakistan has had an above average record on refugee matters. Despite not being a signatory to the refugee conventions, it has hosted millions of Afghan refugees for decades. Security interests may have prompted it to do so. Still, its generosity in providing Afghan refugees a home was remarkable. It is unfortunate that Pakistan is abandoning them now. It must rethink its decision. The forced repatriation of the Afghan refugees will only add to the world’s perception of Pakistan as a hostile society.

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