What is it like to live in Pakistan as an Afghan Refugee? The answer to this question is a harsh reality for nearly over a million people, many of whom face police brutality, risk deportation into a nation that they left for security purposes, and have to deal with being constantly marginalized and vilified by the general public and media.
Over the years, refugees have fled Afghanistan and piled into regions in the neighboring nation of Pakistan for a myriad of reasons. Among these reasons are the Soviet invasion in 1979, Taliban control, and the US led war following 9//11 all of which posed as significant threats to civilians’ lives.
Since then, the Pakistani government has done very little to ensure the well-being of millions of displaced people hosted within their borders. Afghan refugees are cooped up in unhygienic, unaccommodating camps near main cities such as Peshawar. These camps offer little to no access to food, health care, maternity support, education, and shelter. In fact, billions of dollars worth of international aid contributed to the cause is often distributed into the hands of corrupt local workers.
In these last few years, refugees have faced a series of obstacles that have made it increasingly difficult for them to enjoy their right to life, liberty, and security of person. Roughly 365,000 refugees 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 inhumanely, mostly during the night in dead winter. This is yet another example of how the lives of refugees are disregarded by the state. It is an issue that has been largely ignored by international organizations and needs to be addressed, particularly because the actions of the Pakistani government violate legal prohibitions against refoulement under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Additionally, the Pakistani media and military establishment have consistently supported the use of force against refugees. In many cases, it has been implied that if they don’t leave the country immediately, these people should be deported. This rhetoric has spread to social media and the common people. Trending Twitter hash tags such as #KickOutAfghans and #AfghanRefugeesThreat have further contributed to the alienation and dehumanization of refugees.
Police in Afghan populated slums are also known for arbitrarily detaining and publicly humiliating/beating the refugees. Officials argue that there is just reasoning behind these actions because Afghans are supposedly responsible for terrorism and violent crime. However, the refugees themselves deny any involvement and insist they are being unfairly targeted. It’s important to note that according to data from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa prosecutor’s office, Afghan refugees were found to be responsible for only 1.27% of all violent crimes since 2014.
Despite these unfortunate disadvantages, many Afghan refugees have spent their entire lives in Pakistan. They have memories tied to the communities, and those that have been born and brought up there consider the country their own. Being that the refugees are immersed in local culture and surrounded by the people, it is absolutely heartbreaking that they are not accepted. Solely based on the fact that unfortunate circumstances forced them to move, these refugees are denied the opportunity to claim a specific identity.
A 76-page report drafted by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) “Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity: The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees,” addressed these violations committed by the state of Pakistan. The report emphasizes the role that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has played in the mass deportation by refusing to condemn the large-scale refoulement and allocating funds to voluntary repatriation programs.
It is vital that the suggestions of the HRW are heeded and the international community, as well as the nation of Pakistan, put an end to this abuse once and for all.