A delegation of ‘concerned citizens’ comprising prominent figures from various spheres of Pakistani society convened on Thursday to meet with Rabea Javeria Agha, Chairperson of the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR).
Their primary objective was to press the human rights watchdog to address the violations of human rights faced by Afghan refugees, who were recently ordered to be expelled by the caretaker government.
The delegation brought together influential individuals such as Farhatullah Babar, President of the Human Rights Cell of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP); Afrasiab Khattak, former Senator and member of the National Democratic Movement (NDM); Senator Mushtaq Ahmad of Jamaat-e-Islami; and human rights activists including Saba Gul Khattak, Barrister Umer Gilani, Amina Masood Janjua, and Supreme Court Advocate Imran Shafiq.
In a formal display of their commitment to this pressing issue, the delegation also presented a petition to Chairperson Rabea Javeria Agha during their meeting at her office.
The petition underscored that earlier this month, the unelected caretaker government took a surprising departure from Pakistan’s four-decade-old policy of protecting Afghan refugees, regardless of their documentation status. This abrupt decision, attributed to the so-called “apex committee,” a body lacking legal or constitutional standing, was found to be in violation of the cabinet’s decision made in February 2017 by the elected government.
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The delegation argued that the apex committee’s decision not only contravened established court judgments but also ran counter to the Tripartite Agreement between Pakistan, UNHCR, and Afghanistan. It further violated international treaties ratified by Pakistan and recommendations put forth by the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly late last year.
Moreover, the delegation contended that the decision conflicted with the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) plus regime, which had previously granted Pakistan preferential export facilities to European Union countries. They criticised this decision as “thoughtless and knee-jerk,” asserting that it led to police-initiated campaigns against Afghan refugees across the country, resulting in widespread reports of harassment, bribery, and extortion.
The petitioners vehemently rejected the notion that all foreigners in Pakistan without valid visas should be subject to deportation. They argued that this simplistic view failed to consider the fact that many “illegal” and undocumented refugees had no other choice due to the government’s reluctance to issue them the necessary documents.
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The delegation also highlighted Pakistan’s recognition of the constitutional right to asylum, a principle reaffirmed by the Islamabad High Court in the well-known case of Raheel Azizi vs State.
Key respondents in the petition include the Federation of Pakistan, Secretary of the Interior Division, Coordinator of the “Apex Committee,” Director-General of Immigration and Passports, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees, NADRA, and UNHCR.
In their appeal, the petitioners called on the UNHCR to intervene and prevent the Federation from detaining and forcibly deporting Afghan asylum-seekers who possess valid documentation or whose asylum applications are pending before UNHCR, with particular emphasis on safeguarding Afghan human rights defenders.
The meeting with the NCHR serves as a notable milestone in the ongoing efforts to protect the rights and dignity of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, underscoring the importance of upholding the principles of international humanitarian law and safeguarding the rights of vulnerable populations in the region.