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Group slams Pakistani government, alleges frivolous arrests of Afghan refugees

The international rights group Amnesty International called on Pakistan’s government Tuesday to stop what it described as random arrests of Afghan refugees, including those with Pakistani visas.

Millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of their country, creating one of the world’s largest refugee populations. More than 100,000 Afghans crossed the border to avoid persecution at home after the Taliban seized power in August 2021. The Taliban have announced a pardon and urged Afghans not to leave the country.

The majority of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan say they are facing delays in their visa processing and relocation to the United States and other countries.

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A group of people who worked with the European Union on elections in Afghanistan from 2018 to 2020 called for visas to be granted to Afghans who worked on the project.

In an open letter to EU member states, the group said the people working on the project had sent letters to the European Union and member states in anticipation of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban to issue temporary visas so that they could leave Afghanistan. They want to seek asylum to avoid persecution at home but say their pleas have gone unanswered. The letter said those who worked on the project were still facing hardships and delays in getting visas for relocation to safer places outside Afghanistan.

Earlier, in a statement to mark World Refugee Day, the London-based Amnesty urged Pakistan to “urgently stop arbitrarily arresting and harassing Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom are fleeing persecution by the Taliban.”

Pakistan Flag

Pakistan’s treatment of Afghan refugees has been condemned by human rights watchdog Amnesty International. (ARIF ALI/AFP via Getty Images)

It also expressed deep concern about the vulnerable situation of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.

“It is deeply concerning that the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is not receiving due international attention,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for South Asia.

Officials at Pakistan’s foreign ministry could not be reached for comment. Security officials said police only arrest Afghans who enter the country without valid documents and deport them after they serve a brief sentence.

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For many refugees in Pakistan, a return to Afghanistan is not an option, according to Amnesty. The group urged the U.N. refugee agency to “expedite registration and reviews of applications from Afghans seeking refugee status in Pakistan.”

Amnesty also cited refugees as calling on countries offering relocation schemes to expedite their visa applications.

The agency says there are more than 3.7 million Afghans in Pakistan who fled Afghanistan for economic and political reasons. Only 1.4 million are formally registered.

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Earlier this month, the Afghanistan Embassy in Islamabad also urged Pakistan to stop arresting Afghans, after 250 were detained by counterterrorism officials and other agencies for not having travel documents.

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