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NEW YORK – Human Rights First strongly condemns Pakistan’s return of Afghan refugees to danger in their country and urges the U.S. government to respond by pressing Pakistan to halt returns that violate international law, increasing humanitarian support to refugees in Pakistan, and sharply ramping up expedited resettlement for at-risk Afghan refugees.
“Pakistan’s forced return of refugees to Afghanistan endangers the lives of human rights defenders, women’s rights advocates, people who worked with the United States, and countless other Afghans who will suffer brutal persecution there,” said Michael Breen, President & CEO of Human Rights First. “When the withdrawal of U.S. forces put them at risk, the most vulnerable Afghans turned to Pakistan for sanctuary. The United States and the global community must press Pakistan to halt these returns immediately and speed up resettlement initiatives so that Afghans left waiting in Pakistan can be brought to safety.”
The government of Pakistan must uphold its obligations under customary international law to protect refugees from return to persecution and its obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Human Rights First recommends the U.S. government sharply increase the pace and scale of expedited resettlement for at-risk Afghans. Access to resettlement and other protections must be ensured for human rights advocates, women, journalists, minorities, and other at-risk refugee populations, in addition to people who face persecution in Afghanistan due to their work with the United States or U.S. forces. The United States should also work with the international community to ensure humanitarian support for refugees in Pakistan.
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, hundreds of thousands of Afghans have fled persecution by moving to Pakistan. Deporting or returning them to ongoing threats in Afghanistan would deepen the humanitarian crisis there, including for Afghan human rights advocates who have been systematically targeted and women who have been stripped of their rights.
Thousands of Afghans currently in Pakistan have pathways to permanent resettlement in the United States – including the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program and P1 and P2 referrals to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program – but applicants now face additional threats of detention or deportation from Pakistan as they wait for their applications to be processed.
The U.S. government should establish, and the government of Pakistan should welcome, a Resettlement Support Center in Pakistan, which would facilitate swifter processing of Afghan and other refugees identified for resettlement to the United States. Pakistan must also ensure and support the registration of all refugees to enable protection from improper returns, detention, or other abuses.
Human Rights First also continues to call for an SIV program that does not need annual reauthorization and for the U.S. government to continue to invest in refugee resettlement to provide Afghans with swift and meaningful pathways to safety.