As the world's attention is focused on the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Russia, and Israel, Pakistan is quietly taking advantage of the situation to expel Afghan refugees who have been living in the country for decades. Pakistani authorities are demolishing Afghan refugee homes with bulldozers, and there are reports that the belongings of Afghans returning to their homeland are being stolen.
Despite these alarming developments, Muslim countries that have been vocal in condemning the oppression of Muslims elsewhere have remained silent on the plight of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
There are approximately 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, of whom about 1.7 million lack the necessary documents to reside in the country. The Pakistani government alleges that some Afghan refugees are involved in the ongoing terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
Last month, the Pakistani government announced that all Afghans without visas must leave Pakistan by October 31, 2023. Afghan refugees are facing immense pressure to leave Pakistan, with their homes being forcibly demolished and their lives uprooted. Those returning to Afghanistan are reportedly being robbed of their possessions.
Pakistani media has accused Pakistani police of involvement in the theft of Afghan refugees' belongings. Long lines of trucks and vehicles carrying Afghan refugees are seen crossing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at Torkham. As of last Wednesday, nearly 24,000 Afghan refugees had crossed the border into Afghanistan.
In 2021, fearing the Taliban's return to power, lakhs of Afghans fled to Pakistan. They feared persecution under the Taliban regime.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern over the Pakistani government's order to Afghan refugees to leave. The Pakistani government has banned UNHCR officials from visiting Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, requiring them to seek permission for each visit. UNHCR has formally requested permission to send two officers to the Panian Refugee Camp, the tenth largest refugee camp in Asia, which houses 80,000 Afghan refugees.
Just as the Chinese government closely monitors Uyghur Muslims, the Pakistani government monitors Afghan refugees in these camps, restricting their movement. Afghan refugees in these camps live in squalid conditions without basic necessities like clean drinking water, electricity, medicine, and schools for their children. There are 54 such refugee camps in North-West Pakistan.
In 2023, UNHCR launched a Cash Assistance Program to improve the lives of Afghan refugees, providing approximately $17.8 million in assistance by January.
The Taliban government is angered by the Pakistani government's forcible expulsion of Afghan refugees. Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan are likely to escalate in the coming days. Afghan Prime Minister Mullah Muhammad Hassan Akhund has condemned Pakistan's actions as illegal and has called for refugees to be given ample time to return to their homeland. In a video message, Akhund questioned Pakistan's motives, asking why refugees are being harassed, robbed, and evicted if the only option is to expel them.