Pakistan to attend UNHCR moot today


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will attend the annual meeting of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Executive Committee meeting starting in Geneva today amid the country’s push for seeking deportation of around 1.75 million foreigners, mostly Afghans, residing in the country illegally.

The Pakistani delegation will be led by Special Representative on Afghanistan Asif Durrani while secretary SAFRON will also be part of the delegation. The UNHCR Executive Committee will be meeting from October 9 to October 13 in Geneva.

“The Executive Committee inter alia considers the funding of various UNHCR programmes for refugees,” said a foreign office official. The 74th meeting of the UNHCR Executive Committee is taking place at a time when the issue of Afghan refugees is in the spotlight.

In a series of measures, Pakistan decided to evict all foreigners living in the country illegally. It has given some 1.75 million illegal immigrants, mostly Afghans, until Oct 31 to leave the country or face eviction.

The UNHCR has opposed any moves seeking forced eviction of Afghans.

However, Pakistan has clarified that the crackdown is against only those who are illegal immigrants. Those who have valid documents and refugee status need not to worry.

When asked, a government official said the issue of deportation of illegal immigrants had nothing to do with the meeting of UNHCR in Geneva. “It has nothing to do with refugees. The UNHCR has always acknowledged our positive contribution,” the official added.

On Saturday, UNHCR and the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) offered their support to Pakistan in “developing a comprehensive and sustainable mechanism to register and manage Afghan nationals, including those who may be in need of international protection”.

While appreciating Pakistan’s generous hospitality towards Afghan nationals for over four decades despite challenges, the international refugee and migration agencies appealed to the government of Pakistan to consider the human rights violations that might occur in their efforts for “forced repatriation of Afghan nationals”, including the separation of families and deportation of minors.

The UN agencies released a joint statement after Pakistan announced plans to deport around 1.75 million “illegal” and undocumented Afghan immigrants back to their home country. The statement highlighted the human rights challenges in Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls.

“Such plans would have serious implications for all who have been forced to leave the country and may face serious protection risks upon return,” the statement read, adding that the Taliban-ruled country was facing a humanitarian crisis already.

However, the UNHCR and the IOM acknowledged Pakistan government’s sovereign prerogative over domestic policies, its need to manage populations on its territory, and its obligations to ensure public safety and security.

The UN agencies urged Pakistan to protect all vulnerable Afghans who had sought safety in the country and could be at imminent risk if forced to return.

The UNHCR and IOM called for Pakistan’s government to ensure that all return was “voluntary, safe, and dignified — without any pressure, to ensure protection for those who are seeking safety”.

They added that the agencies would continue to call on “all countries to suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals”. On Thursday, October 5, the deportation of Afghan citizens living illegally in Pakistan kicked off as 16 trucks carrying 20 families reached the Torkham