USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

World Refugee Survey 2009: Pakistan

Introduction 

Since 1979, Pakistan has hosted millions of refugees from Afghanistan it recognized on a ''prima facie'' basis.  During the year, about 272,000 repatriated leaving about 1.8 million along with about 1,200 hundred Somali, Iraqi, and other refugees and asylum seekers.  Many returnees cited insecurity in Pakistan as the reason for leaving.  About one million lived in over 80 camps, including 71 in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), 12 in Balochistan and 1 in the Punjab.

2008 Events Summary 
In refugee villages, refugees and Pakistanis were injured and killed in conflicts over access to water, land use and competition for other resources.  Insecurity limited or prevented international monitoring of such incidents.

NWFP police continued a crackdown on unregistered Afghans begun late in the previous year and by March local courts were ordering the deportation of some 60 per month for lack of legal documents to remain under Section 14 of Foreigners Act.  The courts also imposed jail sentences of five to ten days and fines of 1,000 to 2,000 Rupees (about $13-25).

In April, police clashed with some 400 Afghan refugees and sympathetic local students as authorities closed Jalozai camp outside Peshawar, the largest in Pakistan and home to over 70,000 people.  The Government’s chief refugee commissioner promised not to evict them forcibly or to cut off food aid, water, and electricity until the last refugee left the camp, but authorities demolished about 500 Afghan-owned shops at the camp and cut off power and water anyway.  Demonstrators pelted bulldozers and armored vehicles, burned tires, and blocked a road.  Residents could return to Afghanistan—and 3,000 did—or rebuild homes in other camps in the Punjab or North West Frontier Provinces at their own expense.  Many had lived in the camp for decades.  Authorities said that some camps had become havens for “terrorists” and criminal activities.  The Government allowed 600 carpet weavers to remain to train Pakistanis.

Also slated for closure in 2008 were Girdi Jungle and Jungle Piralizai in Balochistan, to which UNHCR did not have access, and where authorities expected more resistance because most were from southern Afghanistan where the insecurity was greater.  By September, they had not closed. 

In April, Pakistan signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which restricts expulsion and recognizes the right to freedom of movement and choice of residence.  It also signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which prohibits parties from returning persons to countries where they would be tortured and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights which affirms the right to work.

In May, UNHCR suspended NWFP repatriations because of unrest and fighting in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, which forced it to close its center for giving returnees cash in Jalalabad.  The agency closed its Voluntary Repatriation Centre (VRC) in Hayatabad but continued operating the Baleli VRC in Balochistan.  During a May food shortage, Frontier Corps border security forces distributed wheat flour in Balochistan only to holders of Pakistani national identity cards, excluding refugees.

In August, the Government extended the 2009 deadline allowing Afghans to remain in the country under the Tri-Partite Agreement between it and UNHCR and the Government of Afghanistan in light of insecurity there and low absorption capacity.  UNHCR said it could take three to five years to finish repatriations and would seek $135 million in aid for refugee hosting and refugee affected areas in Balochistan and the NWFP.

In September, members of the Islamic Bloc party in Balakot accused 33 Afghan refugees of using national identity cards to claim compensation and prefabricated houses meant for victims of the 2005 earthquake and called for their expulsion.

In October, officials accused some 50,000 Afghan refugees in the Bajaur tribal area near the border of links to militants, ordered them to leave the area, and began deporting them and arresting those who returned.  Authorities also threatened to bulldoze their homes and ordered local residents to cut business ties with them and to evict them from houses and shops they were renting.  Pakistani troops claimed to have killed more than a thousand al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants there in a few weeks.  Officials said they arrested at least 40 Afghans and would deport them and shut down Afghan-owned shops in the area.  About 168,000 fled to other parts of northwest Pakistan but some 20,000 Pakistanis and Afghans went to Afghanistan’s neighboring Kunar province.  UNHCR had closed the last refugee camps in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas in 2005.  The agency requested that authorities not force any registered refugees that may remain in the area to return to Afghanistan but was not aware of any.  It agreed, however, that Pakistan might legitimately deport unregistered Afghans found in the area.

In November, UNHCR funded National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to offer to correct or replace Afghan refugees’ lost or damaged Proof of Registration (PoR) cards.  By February 2007, authorities had issued 2.16 million such cards valid through December 2009.  The Ministry of Interior and the NADRA failed to register hundreds of applicants in Peshawar but they did not reopen the process. 

In December, the Peshawar district administration barred the entry of Afghan refugees into the city and their riding on the backs of motorcycles for the first 10 days of the sacred month of Muharram.  Also in December, the Balochistan National Party and other nationalist groups held a rally in Quetta accusing the Government of trying to reduce them to minority status by secretly granting Aghans local certificates, national identity cards, and land ownership and called upon it to revoke them.

Repatriations, prisoner exchanges, or exchanges of detainees for kidnapped Pakistanis occasionally revealed cases where Pakistani authorities had kidnapped Afghans.

UNHCR and other UN agencies reportedly planned to spend $135 million on a pilot program to rehabilitate refugee-affected areas and community development in the NWFP and Balochistan. \

Law and Policy

Refoulement/Physical Protection 
Pakistan is not party to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol and has no legislation to recognize refugees.  A Tripartite Agreement between the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan and UNHCR regulates the management of registered Afghans.  The Foreigners Act of 1946 (amended 2000) pertains to unregistered Afghans and non-Afghan asylum seekers and prescribes up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine for any who enter without valid travel documents.

Pakistan is party, however, to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political rights which, with few exceptions, allows expulsion only by law and requires the Government to allow those it wishes to expel to give reasons against doing so and to have competent authorities review their cases and to have representatives in doing so?  Pakistan is also signatory, without reservation, to the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which prohibits refoulement of anyone where there is substantial risk that they will be tortured.

Detention/Access to Courts 
Authorities arrest persons for illegal entry and presence all over the country but compile no statistics on it.  Generally, they deport them after they pay their fines and finish their jail terms.  Detention condition is substandard throughout the country with no separation between adults and minors and overcrowded in the border regions.  Facilities are under provincial authorities with varying policies on independent monitoring.  Visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross are rare and require permission from higher authorities.  National staff members of UNHCR and partners usually have greater access than international staff members.  Refugees and asylum seekers can challenge detention and deportation orders before an independent tribunal.

Afghans who registered with the National Database and Registration Authority between October 2006 and February 2007, including children over five, hold Proof of Registration (PoR) cards providing de facto temporary protection through 2012 but no other legal rights.  Those who arrived after 2007 are not eligible for PoRs and those who leave the territory loose them.  Authorities generally release refugees they arrest or detain under the Foreigners Act for illegal entry or stay when they produce PoR or protection letters.  UNHCR maintains a 24-hour hotline for intervention in the arrest of PoR holders.  UNHCR issues asylum seeker certificates or Protection Letters to unregistered Afghans and other nationals it finds to be in need of protection and renews them pending refugee status determination and the Government generally respects them.

Some 80 non-Afghan refugees who arrived before July 2000 register with and received one-year identity cards from the National Alien Registration Authority (NARA) and may also apply for three-year work permits.

The Constitution grants the same protections against arbitrary arrest and detention to all persons in Pakistan.  In April 2008, Pakistan signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits arbitrary detention.  According to the U.S. State Department, however, refugees do not have access to courts, police demand bribes from them, and members of the intelligence services harass them.

Freedom of Movement and Residence 
The Government imposes no restrictions on the movement or residence of registered Afghans with PoR nor on aid to those living outside camps.  Nevertheless, while UNHCR provides only those in camps with health, education, and water service.  Law enforcement agencies arrest some who travel with PoR cards and their release sometimes requires UNHCR intervention.  Police Officers often ask for bribes at checkpoints regardless of their nationality and documents.

The 1973 Constitution protects only Pakistani citizens’ freedom of movement but Pakistan is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights which provides for general rights of freedom of movement and choice of residence.

The Government issues no international travel documents to refugees.

Right to Earn a Livelihood 
Only about 80 recognized non-Afghan refugees with NARA cards may apply for work permits valid for three years.  While the Foreigners Act prohibits the hiring of “a person who has no permission to stay in Pakistan,” authorities tolerate refugees working in the informal sector.  Labor laws protect only NARA card holders with work permit.  Taliban sympathizers harass female refugees who worked for NGOs.

In April 2008, Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which recognizes a general human right to work.

In formal trade, refugees need Pakistani partners and cannot hold immovable property or the requisite documents to own a business.  In the NWFP, refugees dominate the transportation industry but legally they cannot own trucks.

Public Relief and Education 
The Government allows Afghan refugees access to basic health services. 

In camps, UNHCR funds free education following the Afghan curriculum.  Non-Afghans refugees and asylum seekers and Afghans in urban settlements do not have access to public schools and must send their children to private schools.

Pakistan does not include refugees in its 2004 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper but the UN’s $140 million Refugee Affected and Hosting Area program, starting in 2009, aids both refugees and hosting populations.

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