“If your bed belongs to another person (Pakistan), they have the power to take it away from you in the middle of the night,”
Despite various eviction extensions given to the illegal Afghan residents in Pakistan, to date 1.3 million illegally continue to populate the country. Tensions soured between the Afghan refugees and Pakistan, particularly after the APS attack in December 2014. Security concerns rose, and hostility towards Afghan refugee groups increased, as reported by the Amnesty report of 2016. In October 2023, the interior minister, Sarfaraz Bugti, announced a crackdown against illegal Afghans, not mentioning the Balochistan attacks directly. However, public forums and media channels have been vocal about the underlying security concerns and tensions between the Taliban and the Pakistan government over the recent months, driving this decision.
Taliban called this eviction, “unfair” and “unjust.” The UN says they are “extremely alarmed,” by this decision. They believe this forcible return will lead to a “humanitarian catastrophe,” especially for women and girls. But, how do the returning refugees feel? For some, they are being sent to a “land unknown” since their great grandfathers settled in these refugee camps more than 3 to 4 decades ago, fleeing from the invading Soviets.
If more than 70% of Afghan refugees have been born and bred in Pakistan, why is citizenship not the solution? Under international law, refugees can take shelter in any foreign country they want. However, Pakistan is not under any obligation by the UN conventions to offer citizenship to Afghan refugees, unlike the European countries. No compulsion, but has Pakistan exhausted the moral commitment towards these refugees? Does moral commitment have a limit or extent? This also brings out the question of whether this forcible return is legal or not.
Not everyone is willing to return.
Some have pointed fingers at Pakistan for halting the allocation of refugee statuses to the incoming Afghanis after the Taliban regained control in August 2021. Was the Pakistani government satisfied with the Taliban’s claim that “this time it will be different.”
One Afghan refugee told BBC, "Before we left Afghanistan, our lives were in 50% danger. Now they are in 100% danger.” This group of Afghan refugees fled after the Taliban regained control in 2021, because of their former ties with the US and British governments - “the enemies” of the Taliban. These people are not voluntarily returning, but they are being forced. Their lives are in danger. How is this fair?
In a 7-year-old interview with Al-Jazeera, a former refugee in Pakistan who returned to Afghanistan in 2004, blamed the “government policies that never accepted us as the humans of Pakistan.” He further stated how the term “muhajir” was used to refer to the refugees in schools and madrassas, with a derogatory underlining. Similarly, if the Pakistani students in these heterogeneous camp schools were taught A for “apple”, we (the Afghans) were taught A for “Allah.”
All these years later, discrimination, hostility, and torture across borders remains. How is this morally acceptable? Is Pakistan hoping for a better future for itself or the refugees by forcing them to leave? What about those who are waiting to be relocated to the UK and the US through the relocation schemes they applied for years and years ago? Will they be arrested after returning to their own so-called “homeland?” Who is to be held accountable and who will promise their safety?
Lastly, the complex question we are left with is how much of this decision by the Pakistani government lies in security concerns, political reasons, or immorality.