Pakistan: the difficulties of Afghans who seek protection in the country, amidst harassment and arbitrary arrests

Pakistan: the difficulties of Afghans who seek protection in the country, amidst harassment and arbitrary arrests


ROME – The return to power of the Taliban in August 2021 prompted many Afghans to flee their country to seek protection in neighboring Pakistan, where, however, they found a less than cordial welcome. Between illegal detentions and threats of expulsion, Afghans in Islamabad are also in danger. Registration procedures take a long time, migrants can only stay in the country if they have the so-called “PoR” card – Proof of Registration – but the majority of Afghans are unable to obtain the permit in due time, so many of them enter Pakistan regularly but in the meantime the visa expires and they find themselves in the vicious circle of clandestinity. “It is worrying that the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is not receiving due international attention. Not being able to go home or stay in Pakistan, they find themselves in a hopeless situation. Their ambiguous legal status and difficult procedures for asylum or transfer to third countries have made them even more vulnerable,” explains Dinushika Dissanayake, Deputy Regional Director of Amnesty International for South Asia.

“Our lives in Pakistan are not lives.” Hussain, a former Interior Ministry employee in Afghanistan, fled with his family to Pakistan in 2022, where he suffered all kinds of harassment. In February 2023, police ransacked his home in Islamabad, along with other homes of Afghan families in the same neighborhood. Hussain was handcuffed and taken to the police station for questioning. “They took our passports and wallets and searched us several times. They also arrested many of us who had valid visas and were legally in the country,” he said. The following morning he was released after paying a fine of 30,000 rupees, just over 90 euros. Five other Afghan detainees interviewed by Amnesty International experienced similar incidents and all were forced to pay fines. “Our lives in Pakistan are not lives at all,” said Hussain.

Victims also of bureaucracy. These cases represent only a small number of Afghans who have sought asylum in Pakistan with the aim of building a new life or moving to a third country. The threats and harassment they have suffered have been amplified by delays in relocation procedures in third countries and expired visas: a combination of causes that make them legally vulnerable. Countries that have offered relocation programs to Afghans persecuted by the Taliban are the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany. But currently these states do not issue visas in Afghanistan, also because they do not have diplomatic representations. Issuing residence permits in Pakistan is a long and complex procedure. In October 2022, for example, Germany launched a program to rescue around 1,000 Afghans a month, selected from those at risk of persecution at home. But in June 2023 – writes Amnesty quoting journalistic sources – not a single Afghan has arrived in Germany and many of those admitted to the program are in Pakistan waiting to receive a visa.

The bribes. Undocumented Afghans cannot work so they often end up in black and exploitative activities. Without a PoR card or visa they cannot buy SIM cards for mobile phones or open bank accounts, which prevents them from receiving money from relatives. “If you don’t have a visa, you can’t even aspire to a legal lease, so they ask us for bribes to rent our house”, Hussain continues. Recently detained Afghan refugees said they had no legal protection in police custody. Among the other difficulties that they experience on their skin is that of not being able to access health care and education for their children: some schools refuse to accept Afghan children due to the ambiguity of their legal status. More women and girls experience gender discrimination.

Persecutions everywhere. “Afghans were first punished by the Taliban and now they are penalized by complicated registration, asylum and visa processes. The international community has failed to provide adequate protection to those fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, in stark contrast to the initial promises made,” says Dinushika Dissanayake. According to theUNHCR in Pakistan there are more than 3.7 million Afghans, who fled the country for both economic and political reasons. Only 1.4 million of them are formally registered.


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