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Canada concerned over safety of Afghanistan refugees stranded in Pakistan

The Canadian government is concerned about the safety of refugees from Afghanistan stranded in Pakistan, many of whom fled the country as the Taliban took over nearly two years ago, and now fearing detention or deportation by Pakistani authorities.

There is a large number of vulnerable refugees seeking to move to Canada and other Western countries under refugee resettlement programs. Most of them are facing delays in processing their resettlement applications, a lack of assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Islamabad, and visa extension issues.

Canada has vowed to resettle at least 40,000 refugees from Afghanistan in Canada by the end of this year. Since August 2021, 34,210 of these refugees have arrived in Canada and many remain at risk of arbitrary arrests and harassment at the hands of Pakistani police and law enforcement agencies in Pakistan, particularly Islamabad.

Zuhal Anwari and her family of five – her husband, and four daughters – are among those who have been promised resettlement by the Canadian government.

Anwari, a human rights defender who fled Taliban retaliation following the group’s takeover in August 2021, has been living in constant fear in Islamabad as she awaits the resettlement process. She stays in the Pakistani capital on a one-year visa which requires an extension every two months.

“Life in Pakistan is so difficult,” Anwari told the Global News in a video released Sunday. “The Pakistani police arrested my husband. Since it proved difficult to release him, we were compelled to bribe them.”

But the recent wave of detention, torture, and risk of deportation of these refugees in Islamabad has raised widespread concerns, especially for those whose visas have expired.

Arzo Ahmadi, a jujitsu champion from Afghanistan, was detained by Pakistani authorities on June 6,  just two days after winning a gold medal in an international competition held in Karachi. Ahmadi’s Pakistani visa had run out.

The fate of refugees in Pakistan has also become a concern for a group of current and former British military and political figures.

On Friday, a group of prominent British figures, including General David Richards, General Sir John McColl, General Richard Dannatt, Lord Robertson, Dan Jarvis MP, and Rory Stewart, wrote to their prime minister, Rishi Sunak, expressing concerns about the fate of those stranded in Pakistan.

Many refugee families have accused the UNHCR in Islamabad of not doing enough to provide refugee registration cards to them.

When Ahmadi showed the Pakistani police a UNHCR registration card, the police raged at her, saying “They don’t recognize the UNHCR” and told her to obtain a valid Pakistani visa.

According to the UN, over 600,000 citizens of Afghanistan fled to Pakistan in recent years, bringing the number of these refugees in the country to 3.7 million. Only 1.32 million of these refugees are registered with UNHCR.

The Pakistani government has carried out tightened border controls to block illegal entrants in recent months.