Pakistan

HRW urges Pakistan to end police ‘harassment’ of Afghan refugees

KARACHI: The Human Rights Watch has released a report highlighting flagrant police abuses against Afghan refugees in Pakistan and called upon the host country to take immediate measures to halt the practice.

In a detailed report entitled: “What Are You Doing Here?’: Police Abuses against Afghans in Pakistan”, the HRW issued a set of recommendations to the Pakistani government to act decisively and prevent refugees from being subjected to abuse.

HRW detailed that hostility towards Afghans living in Pakistan is not new, but it increased dramatically after Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, killing 145 people, including 132 children. Since then, Pakistani police have carried out raids on Afghan settlements, detained, harassed, and beaten Afghan men, extorted bribes, and demolished Afghan homes. Every Afghan interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had returned to Afghanistan said that fear of the police was the reason they had done so. Afghans remaining in Pakistan described a repeated pattern of arbitrary detention, extortion, and intimidation. Both registered and undocumented Afghans have been the victims of Pakistani police abuse.

The refugees who remain are viewed with deep suspicion inside Pakistan and are routinely accused by authorities of harbouring militants.

This pattern of widespread threats and abuse is occurring against a backdrop of increasing insecurity and a faltering economy in Afghanistan, which has driven thousands of Afghans to leave the country in 2015 as they seek security and livelihood abroad.

The Afghan men and women whom Human Rights Watch interviewed described how increasingly hostile climate for Afghans in Pakistan had left them feeling trapped: fearful of returning to Afghanistan; of Pakistani police raiding their homes and workplaces; and of paying bribes to the police to avoid arrest and detention. Many Afghans told Human Rights Watch that they returned to Afghanistan because the rampant extortion meant they could no longer make ends meet in Pakistan.

The report said the uncertainty of the registration process for Afghans in Pakistan has contributed to the problem. The first comprehensive registration of Afghans living in Pakistan, which took place in 2006-2007, provided many Afghan refugees with a Proof of Registration (PoR) card initially valid for three years. The Pakistani government subsequently extended the validity of the cards several times; the PoR cards will expire on December 31, 2015. Following a Tripartite Meeting of UNHCR, Pakistan and Afghanistan in August 2015, plans are being considered to extend the cards’ validity to 2017.

Following the 2007 registration, UNHCR considered PoR cardholders (and not undocumented Afghans) as prima facie refugees. Undocumented Afghans-those who did not register-do not have the legal right to reside in Pakistan. Afghans who arrived after the census ofAfghans in 2005 have not had an opportunity to register with the Pakistani government and therefore automatically fall into the undocumented category.

A lasting solution to the current situation for both refugees and undocumented Afghans in Pakistan will depend upon improved respect for their rights. It also will require cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan to ensure that Afghans who wish to return to Afghanistan have access to education, housing, and health services when they do, and that Afghans who remain have access to appropriate assistance in Pakistan.

While the Afghan government, UNHCR, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other international donors provide some financial assistance to cover transportation costs and immediate needs for registered refugees who return, most undocumented Afghans who do so, apart from a fraction ofthe most vulnerable, receive no assistance at all.

International donors and the government of Afghanistan should work with UNHCR, and relevant NGOs to ensure that all vulnerable returning Afghan refugees have access to needed resources and services upon return; and work with the International Office on Migration and relevant NGOs to ensure the same for undocumented Afghans.

Recommendations

Human Rights Watch calls on the Pakistan government to act decisively to end the police abuses described in this report. Pakistan’s donors and the Afghan government can also take important steps to address these concerns. A full set of recommendations is set forth at the end of this report, but the most urgent steps are as follows:

What Pakistan government needs to do?

HRW suggested government of Pakistan to extend current PoR cards until at least December 31, 2017 and review the PoR system to establish better procedures to avoid the stress and cost of periodic short-term renewals.

Issue a specific written directive instructing all relevant government officials and state security forces to cease unlawful surveillance, harassment, intimidation, and violence against Afghans living in Pakistan.

Ensure that all law enforcement and other government officials treat Afghans living in Pakistan with dignity and respect for their human rights in compliance with their domestic and international legal obligations, without exceptions.

Do not deport documented Afghan refugees; ensure undocumented Afghans can appeal against a decision to deport them; and ensure that Afghans seeking protection are referred to UNHCR.

Ratify the Refugee Convention and adopt a national refugee law, as proposed in the 2013 National Policy on the Management and Repatriation ofAfghan Refugees.

The report said Afghan government should ensure that all returnees have the freedom to settle where they wish and have access to government health and education services regardless of whether they were registered refugees in Pakistan.

Recommendations for UNHCR:

Work with the Pakistani government to ensure that Afghans coming to Pakistan can lodge protection claims with UNHCR or, if UNHCR does not have capacity to do so, with the Pakistani authorities.

Continue to emphasize that all returns must be sustainable and genuinely voluntary, while also working with Pakistan to find solutions for those Afghans who, due to their long residency in Pakistan, are unlikely to return.

HRW said Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s international partners should consider providing additional support to Pakistan and Afghanistan to assist with the Afghan refugee population in Pakistan and returnees in Afghanistan, including improving their access to education services, health care, housing, and land.

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