Date:  November 7, 2023

Pakistan (International Christian Concern) –  After signaling its intentions for about a month, the Pakistani government has begun detaining Afghan refugees and other asylum seekers in temporary holding centers in preparation for deportation. Estimates place the number of undocumented Afghans in Pakistan at 1.7 million, a number that grew significantly after the Taliban retook Afghanistan in 2021.  

The forced expulsion follows weeks of government demands that undocumented foreigners leave voluntarily, leading to the exodus of about 200,000 Afghans since September. 

The forced repatriation of Afghan asylum seekers is a concerning development and one frowned upon by international law. Refoulement, or the forced return of refugees and asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to face persecution, is prohibited in numerous international human rights law treaty bodies, including the Convention against Torture and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). Pakistan is a party to the Convention against Torture but has so far refused to sign or ratify ICPPED.  

Adherence to non-refoulement is, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “an implicit guarantee flowing from the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.” 

A significant number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan face severe persecution if forced to return. Many are Christians or members of other religious minority groups and fled the Taliban’s fundamentalist Islamic rule in 2021. Others worked with religious or secular INGOs, automatically making them targets for the Taliban. 

The Afghan economy is floundering, hit by drought, floods, and multiple devastating earthquakes in recent months. Millions of Afghans are starving, and little international aid makes its way into the country because of Taliban animosity to the supposed “Western” influence brought by aid organizations. 

While the Taliban government may be struggling economically, it has proven extremely effective in imposing its version of Sharia law on Afghanistan. There is no doubt that many of those who fled Taliban rule to Pakistan will face harsh consequences upon their return. 

The forced deportation, which includes all undocumented foreign nationals, will likely impact refugees from Iran and Myanmar as well, according to Foreign Policy and the UN’s International Organization for Migration. Both countries severely restrict religious freedom, forcing religious minorities to hide or flee, and are currently designated as Countries of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department for their particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  

Troubling as the forcible return is under international law, the move may play well in domestic Pakistani politics. Afghan refugees and other undocumented foreigners are easy scapegoats for rampant security issues in the country, and as one of the largest immigrant communities in the country, Afghans are visible targets for nationalistic hatred. Afghans in Pakistan, documented or not, face severe discrimination and are consistently harassed by government officials and the broader community alike. 

Pakistan is currently ruled by a caretaker government and is preparing for elections in January. 

HOW TO PRAY: Pray for provision for the countless displaced families. Pray for wisdom for leaders in Pakistan. Pray for Afghan refugees around the world to find comfort in the love of Christ.