Amnesty calls on Pakistan to end harassment of Afghan refugees

Amnesty International has called on the Pakistani government to stop the arbitrary detention and harassment of Afghan nationals who have sought refuge in the country.

In a statement on Tuesday, Amnesty stated that most of refugees, who have resettled in several Pakistani cities, including Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore, have fled persecution at the hands of the Taliban.

“In recent years, many Afghans living in fear of persecution following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 have fled to Pakistan, where they have been subjected to waves of arbitrary detentions, arrests, and the threat of deportation,” the statement reads.

“It is deeply concerning that the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is not receiving due international attention. Being unable to return home or stay permanently in Pakistan, they are caught in an impossible situation from which there is no escape,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty’s Deputy Regional Director for South Asia.

The situation of these refugees has been compounded by the delayed resettlement process to third countries from Pakistan.

Amnesty noted that countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany, which have offered humanitarian schemes to at-risk refugees, are currently not issuing visas within Afghanistan, where their embassies remain closed.

As a result, many refugees were told by these countries to travel to Pakistan so their resettlement cases could proceed. The process for issuing visas in Pakistan remains complicated and lengthy, with a waiting time of many months.

For example, in October 2022, Germany launched a humanitarian admission program for Afghans at risk of persecution, aiming to bring up to 1,000 Afghans to Germany per month. However, as of June 2023, the program had not yet taken anyone to Germany, and the Afghans who were told by the German authorities to travel to Pakistan to have their visas processed are still there.

According to Amnesty, these delays and the refugees’ lack of proper documentation are putting them at risk of harassment and extortion by Pakistani police and other authorities.

Dinushika Dissanayake said that “Afghans seeking asylum were first punished by the Taliban — and now by arduous registration, asylum, and visa processes. The international community has failed to provide adequate protection to those fleeing persecution in Afghanistan.”

According to the UNHCR, there are more than 3.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, who fled the country amid heightened poverty and unemployment and retaliation from the Taliban authorities. Only 1.4 million of them are formally registered.