Say over 200,000 Afghans and Pakistanis have been deported in the past 40 days, with the fate of hundreds of thousands more up in the air
The government has used its policy to evict ‘illegal immigrants’ as a facade to target the less fortunate perceived to belong to a vulnerable social strata and puts at risk hundreds of thousands more.
This was stated by activists gathered under the banner of the Joint Action Committee for Afghan Refugees while addressing a news conference at the Karachi Press Club on Saturday. The committee comprises lawyers, rights activists, academics and professionals.
They said that in the past 40 days, over 200,000 Afghan refugees have been deported by the caretaker government while the fate of another 3.8 million Afghans residing in Pakistan hangs in the balance. Contrary to the state narrative, the policy of expelling “illegal immigrants” is proving to be a mere facade for waging a radicalised and class-based war against those it deems inferior.
Working-class undocumented Afghans, with well-founded fears of persecution, continue to be scapegoats for the caretaker state’s ineptitude, affording the state the power to banish documented refugees and Pakistani citizens as well — without even attracting due scrutiny from those responsible for upholding human rights.
They lamented how the courts were also busy making a mockery of justice, as they pointed to the objections raised by the office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court on a petition challenging the eviction of Afghan refugees. The petition was returned for allegedly being “not maintainable” on the grounds of human rights or even constitutional importance.
The petition, they asserted, had been filed by human rights activists to ensure the fulfilment of human rights for Afghan refugees and the flagrant disregard of the Constitution by the incumbent caretaker Pakistani government.
Children being detained, pregnant women’s health being jeopardised in detention centres and on the way back to the country they were seeking refuge from, to begin with, and entire families being torn apart due to the caretaker state’s questionable policies are somehow not maintainable under the fight for human rights for the current Supreme Court of Pakistan,” they stated.
They pointed to how a similar petition filed in the Sindh High Court was met with hostility and prejudice earlier in the week. During the hearing, which lasted less than five minutes, the High Court bench stated that a petition challenging state policy was not maintainable, they relayed.
“Our counsel pointed out that policies violating the Constitution are subject to judicial review, and the present policy has been adopted by a caretaker government without the mandate to make such a decision, but the bench did not entertain this,” they said, adding that the court gave three weeks to prove the maintainability of the petition. However, the counsel argued she was ready to prove it right there and then, yet this was denied.
They said that the bench then quoted an example of Saudi Arabia’s treatment towards “illegal immigrants”, — to which the counsel for the collective pointed out that the Constitution of Pakistan does not apply to Saudi Arabia, and vice versa.
Even so, reducing millions of refugees who have fled persecution down to mere “immigrants” who have “overstayed their visas” reeks of a lack of sympathy towards the survivors of a long, drawn-out war which Pakistan abetted.
The human rights defenders said that instead of reprimanding those who have an “illegal” status in the country, why is blame not redirected where it is due — on our state, which keeps refugees’ status illegal in the first place by not issuing them POR/ACC cards as required under an agreement with the UNHCR.
“Why does our state not develop a robust refugee policy instead of a caretaker government unilaterally taking decisions with no democratic backing?”
To send refugees back to a place they have run away from due to legitimate fears of persecution — and death, in the case of women, artists, and religious minorities — is evil and barbaric.
They added that many Afghans have been living in Pakistan for decades, while thousands of others have been born here. For them, this is the only home they know — and their only chance of survival.
Talking about the situation in the detention centres, which the JAC for Refugees’ had visited in Sultanabad and Sohrab Goth over the last several days, they claimed that what they saw convinced them that the state was committing criminal negligence abetted by various institutions.
“We demand the immediate halt of this illegal deportation and detention process, which is based on a decision by a caretaker government which does not even have the mandate to make such sweeping decisions, and whose own tenure has constitutionally expired,” they asserted, adding that like all human beings, Afghan refugees also deserve the right to life, liberty and property, and any attempts by those in power to squash them will only weaken Pakistan’s international position, along with further disillusioning the people of Pakistan.__Courtesy The Friday Times Pakistan