The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.

World Refugee Day: Afghan refugees still facing deportation

As World Refugee Day was marked on 20th June with international neglect, Afghan refugees are facing with deportation from various countries of the world, particularly Pakistan, Iran, Turkiye, and Germany. This comes as the second phase of deportation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan is underway. World Refugee Day is an international day designated by the United Nations to honor refugees around the globe. It falls each year on 20 June and celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution. It was the first Pakistan that started the mass expulsion of Afghan refugees from the country in November 2023, which received scant attention from the international community. Now, as the second phase of deportation is underway, the issue of refugees has once again become a top issue of the international community. Pakistan has generously played host to Afghan refugees for over four decades, with estimates typically ranging from three to four million. This process began as early as 1979 due to foreign interventions, civil wars, recurrent natural disasters, and bleak economic opportunities. Afghan refugees in Pakistan can primarily be categorized into three groups: undocumented Afghans, approximately 840,000 holding Afghan Citizen Cards (ACC), and 1.3 million Proof of Registration (PoR) card holders. In 2017, ACCs were issued (in collaboration with the Afghan government), to those Afghans who had failed to obtain UNHCR-issued PoR cards during a 2006-7 census. These three groups have varying levels of access to basic services. Undocumented Afghans have the least degree of access, while PoR cardholders enjoy the most, including legal access to public education, and health care, as well as the liberty to acquire SIM cards and open bank accounts. On 3rd October 2023, the then caretaker government of Pakistan, led by Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar, unveiled the first phase of the ‘Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan’ (IFRP). Under this, all undocumented foreigners were issued an ultimatum to leave voluntarily before November 1, failing which they would be forcibly deported. In theory, it was aimed at all illegal foreigners residing in Pakistan, irrespective of their provenance, but in practice, it predominantly targeted the 1.7 million undocumented Afghans. In March of this year, it was reported that all concerned authorities were instructed to expedite the mapping of ACC holders. The drive, also hailed as the second phase of the repatriation, was said to pick up pace after Eid al-Fitr, which was celebrated on April 10th in Pakistan. Shortly after, Amnesty International’s report on April 4 warned that this would “unleash another wave of harassment and detentions after the holy month of Ramadan” and described Pakistan’s “callous disregard” for Afghan refugees as heartbreaking. More recently, however, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said there are no plans to repatriate the ACC holders, but thousands of Afghans are currently being expelled from the country. According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, between April 1-20, the rate of arrest and detention for ACC holders and undocumented Afghans was 25% higher compared to PoR holders and asylum seekers. Following the completion of the second phase, the third phase will extend to PoR cardholders. The only saving grace though is that they have freshly been granted an extension till June 30 to legally reside in the country. This could have stemmed from a recalibration in the newly elected government’s approach, particularly as some have voiced concerns about the unjust nature of deporting ‘legal’ Afghans (both ACC and PoR cardholders). This comes as the Islamic Emirate has repeatedly asked Pakistan and other countries to consider mutual understanding regarding Afghan refugees, emphasizing the bilateral nature of immigration decisions. For further possible deportation of more Afghan refugees from Pakistan, Iran, and now Germany, all necessary preparations should be taken to manage the repatriation process of Afghan refugees to their home areas. It is time to make a plan for the management of new Afghan returnees as more countries have joined the deportation drive of Afghan refugees from their countries. Mashal Noori

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The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.