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Refugees

Pakistan's mass return of Afghan refugees raises concerns

A new report by Human Rights Watch has raised concerns as Pakistani officials are forcing hundreds of thousands of refugees to return to Afghanistan. The United Nations has been accused of being an accomplice.

Nearly 600,000 Afghans were subjected to a campaign of abuse and threats by Pakistan's police over the past year, according to the latest report published by Human Rights Watch. HRW found that the Afghans forced to go home included 365,000 registered refugees who were unable to go back to their home areas because of extreme insecurity and poverty.

The 76-page report, "Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity: The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees," highlights the role of police and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the departures. "Because the UN refugee agency didn't stand up publicly to Pakistan's bullying and abuses, international donors should step in to press the government and the UN to protect the remaining refugees in Afghanistan," said Gerry Simpson, senior researcher and the report's author.

The report detailed the means used by Pakistan's government agencies to push out Afghan refugees. These included an insecure legal status, threatening to deport the asylum seekers in winter, arbitrary detention and nocturnal police raids.

"In July, 11 soldiers and police came to our home at 3 a.m. They entered without asking and threw all our things on the floor. They demanded to see our refugee cards and said they were expired. Then they stole all our money and told us to leave Pakistan," an Afghan refugee told HRW.

Afghan refugees at the UNHCR center in Chamkani, on the outskirts of Peshawar

Afghan refugees at the UNHCR center in Chamkani, on the outskirts of Peshawar

According to the report, the UNHCR effectively promoted these forced returns through its cash incentives for refugees going back to Afghanistan and its failure to provide them with accurate information about the situation in their homeland.

According to HRW, the coercion violated the international legal prohibition against refoulement - or the obligation to not return refugees to places where they face persecution or risks to their lives.

'End the fiction'

HRW demanded that Pakistan's government extend refugee permits until March 31, 2018, and that the United Nations publicly challenge any pressure the nation puts on Afghans to go back home.

"The UN refugee agency should end the fiction that the mass forced return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan is, in fact, mass voluntary return," HRW's Simpson said. The forced returns come as violence against civilians in Afghanistan has peaked for the first time since 2009. More than 1.5 million civilians have been displaced and one-third are destitute.

There are many internally displaced families in Afghanistan

There are many internally displaced families in Afghanistan

Additionally, Afghan refugees claiming asylum in Europe are also facing the threat of deportation, with EU member states such as Germany labeling their homeland a "safe country of origin." HRW urged EU members to defer deporting Afghan refugees until the situation becomes clearer and Kabul can cope with the returns.

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