What is it like to live in Pakistan as an Afghan Refugee? The answer to this question is a harsh reality for over a million people, many of whom deal with police brutality, risk deportation into a war-ridden nation they fled, and are constantly marginalized and vilified by the media and general public.
Over the years, Afghans have fled their country and piled into cities in Pakistan for several reasons; the Soviet Invasion of 1979, Taliban control, and the U.S war in Afghanistan following 9/11 all posed significant threats to their lives.
The Pakistani government has done little to ensure the well-being of millions of displaced people hosted within their borders. Afghan refugees are cooped up in unhygienic, unaccommodating camps in cities like Peshawar and Quetta. These camps offer little to no access to food, health care, maternity support, education, and shelter; billions of dollars worth of international aid falls into the pockets of corrupt politicians and non-governmental organization workers.
Recently, refugees have faced a series of obstacles that have made it extremely difficult for them to enjoy their right to life, liberty, and security of person. Roughly 365,000 people have been deported to Afghanistan, making it the largest most recent case of illegal mass forced return. Human Rights Watch reported earlier this year that many of the returns were carried out in inhumane conditions, often at night in harsh winter. This issue in particular has been largely ignored by the international community, despite the fact that the Pakistani government has violated legal prohibitions against refoulement under the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT).
Appeals by the Pakistani media, military establishment, and government in support of forcibly removing refugees have influenced the general population and spread to social media. Trending Twitter hashtags like #KickOutAfghans and #AfghanRefugeesThreat encourage discrimination and the alienation of refugees.
Furthermore, Police in Afghan-populated slums are known for arbitrary detainment and public humiliation. Officials argue that law enforcement officers are fulfilling their duties in combatting frequent terrorism and violent crime. But, the refugees themselves deny involvement and insist they're being targeted unfairly. After all, data from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa prosecutor’s office, reveals that Afghan refugees were found to be responsible for only 1.27% of all violent crimes since 2014.
A 76-page report drafted by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) titled “Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity: The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees,” addresses specific articles violated by the state of Pakistan. The report also emphasizes the role that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has played in the mass deportation by supporting large-scale repatriation and allocating funds to involved programs.
Pakistan needs to be held accountable for failing to uphold its responsibilities under international humanitarian law. Afghan refugees should be granted rights that protect them from systematic persecution and individual discrimination. It is vital that the suggestions of the HRW are followed and the abuse is put an end to once and for all.