In a report released by Human Rights Watch “‘What Are You Doing Here?’: Police Abuses against Afghans in Pakistan,” the human rights defenders denounce the abuses and mistreatment to which Afghans refugees are subjected to in Pakistan.
In this report, the main message Human Rights Watch wishes to convey is that “Pakistan’s government should take all necessary measures to end the rampant police harassment, threats, and violence against Afghans living in Pakistan”. Phelim Kine, HRW Deputy Asia director insists that “the Pakistani government should press the police to apprehend perpetrators of atrocities instead of scapegoating the entire Afghan community.”
Not equal citizens despite longstanding presence
Many Afghans fled conflict and repression in Afghanistan during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and settled in Afghanistan. While many arrived as children, grew up in Pakistan, married, and had children and settled, others have arrived more recently to search for security, employment, and a higher standard of living.
In March 2015, The Tribune Express after interviewing Afghan refugees underlined that “even though their second generation has put down roots here, they are still not considered Pakistani.” Many people insist that they are not a “burden on Pakistan” because they own their businesses, which vary from carpets to garments, leather and threads. Refugees’ girls are being offered an education while they would not have been able to do so in their home country. This gratitude expresses itself in the words of Haji Abdullah Shah Bukhari, a representative of the refugees: “We will forever remain grateful and obliged to Pakistan. But Pakistanis should trust us. We will never harm them”.
However, for a lot of Afghan refugees, the situation is not durable. UNHCR figures reveal that almost 1.5 million Afghan refugees are registered in Pakistan which is still the largest protracted refugee population globally. Since 2002, UNHCR has facilitated the return of 3.8 million registered Afghans from Pakistan.
Normalizing discriminating practices
Conditions deteriorated for Afghan refugees when Pakistani Taliban attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar on 16 December 2014, killing 145 people, including 132 children. The Pakistan government has responded to this terrorist threat with repressive measures “including the introduction of military courts to prosecute terrorism suspects, the lifting of an unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and proposals to register and repatriate Afghans living in Pakistan.”
Despite the official promise not to blame Afghan refugees for that attack, Pakistani police officers have carried an “unofficial policy of punitive retribution that has included raids on Afghan settlements; detention, harassment, and physical violence against Afghans; extortion; and demolition of Afghan homes.” This unclear policy impacts heavily the Afghan nationals who endure economic hardship and reduced access to education and employment. Besides, they described the atmosphere of fear that they have to experience and which sometimes, forces then to return to Afghanistan, or even to join refugees reaching out to Europe.
Human Rights Watch has thus called on Pakistan’s allies to press the government to end abuses by security forces against Afghan refugees and undocumented Afghans, as well as donors to provide additional support to Pakistan and Afghanistan to assist with the Afghan refugee population. Thirdly, HRW has encouraged UNHCR to collaborate with Pakistan to ensure that refugees are able to seek protection by registering as refugees. A last responsibility falls to the government of Afghanistan which has “to ensure that all Afghan returnees have the freedom to settle where they wish and have access to government health, education, and land allocation services regardless of their registered status in Pakistan.”
Human Rights Watch. Pakistan: Police Abusing Afghans. Beatings, Extortion Harm Livelihoods, Generate Flight to Afghanistan. Published 18 November 2015. https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/18/pakistan-police-abusing-afghans
R. Ali. Afghans in Pakistan: Their home and heart belong here. The Express Tribune. Published 2 March 2015. http://tribune.com.pk/story/846384/afghans-in-pakistan-their-home-and-heart-belong-here/