With human rights groups raising alarm over mass forced returns of Afghan refugees from Pakistan, the UN has voiced concern over the negative rhetoric against Afghan population and said Pakistan must uphold its obligations under international laws. “The ongoing negative rhetoric, stigmatism, and labelling of the Afghan population in Pakistan and how this is adversely increasing their vulnerability, safety, and security in Pakistan is of concern,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters on Monday.
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Haq was responding to a question about criticism of the UN system for not calling the return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan refoulement.
He said the UN believes that Pakistan and Afghanistan should work together to finalise a mechanism for documenting undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan.
He also stressed that Pakistan should uphold its obligations under international law.
“Returnees should be provided with detailed information on the situation in their place of origin to allow them to take into account their current situation in regards to security, governance, and livelihoods and to make a fully informed choice.
“And we believe that Pakistan must uphold their obligations under international laws, including the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was signed in 2016,” he said.
Earlier, rights group Human Rights Watch had said in a report that Pakistani authorities have carried out a “campaign of abuses and threats” to drive out nearly 600,000 Afghans since July 2016.
The returnees include 365,000 registered refugees, making it the world’s largest mass forced return of refugees in recent years.
They now face spiralling armed conflict, violence, destitution, and displacement in Afghanistan.
The 76-page report titled “Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity: The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees,” documents Pakistan’s abuses and is also critical of the role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in promoting the exodus.
Through enhancing its “voluntary repatriation” programme and failing to publicly call for an end to coercive practices, the UN agency has become complicit in Pakistan’s mass refugee abuse, it said.
The UN and international donors should press Pakistan to end the abuses, protect the remaining 1.1 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and allow refugees among the other estimated 750,000 unregistered Afghans there to seek protection, Human Rights Watch said.
The group said Pakistan’s coercion of hundreds of thousands of registered Afghan refugees into returning to Afghanistan violates the international legal prohibition against refoulement – not to forcibly return anyone to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life.