Human Rights Watch has published an important report, Pakistan Coercion UN Complicity: The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees.
The report details the return of 365,000 Afghan refugees (out of a total of 1.5 million registered refugees) from Pakistan in the second half of 2016. It condemns the forced nature of the returns and strongly criticizes UNHCR for not speaking out against the Pakistan government’s actions. Based on extensive interviewing, the study notes a number of reasons for decisions by Afghan refugees to return home:
Afghans described to Human Rights Watch various coercive factors that began in June 2016 after relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan deteriorated, including: increasingly insecure legal status; government announcements that all Afghans should leave, and the resulting ever-present threat of deportation; daily police extortion that intimidated and stripped them of their limited income and ability to make ends meet in Pakistan; arbitrary detention; police raids on their homes; exclusion of their children from Pakistani schools and shutting down Afghan refugee schools; and, to a lesser extent, police theft and unlawful use of force. Pakistani police abuses decreased in October 2016, although reports of ongoing abuses continued well into December.
. . . . For many [refugees], the June 2016 decision of UNHCR—under significant pressure from Pakistan seeking increased repatriation rates—to double its cash grant to returnees from US$200 to US$400 per person was a critical factor in persuading them to escape Pakistan’s abuses. Many described other factors adding to the misery of official abuses, including a sudden emergence of anti-Afghan hostility by local Pakistani communities, Pakistani landlords suddenly charging significantly increased rent for apartments and business premises, and the departure of most or all of their relatives and neighbors, which left them feeling exposed and vulnerable to local police abuses.
The report makes a number of recommendations and concludes that UNHCR “fundamentally abrogated its refugee protection mandate by effectively supporting Pakistan’s mass refoulement, thereby making UNHCR complicit in these violations.”
I will publish UNHCR’s response to the report, should one be issued.
(Afghan refugee departs Pakistan © European Union/ECHO/Pierre Prakash)