US Advocates for Afghan Refugees Amid Pakistan’s Threatened Expulsion

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The United States has engaged in high-level diplomatic discussions in Pakistan to address concerns related to Afghan refugees on the brink of mass deportation.

The Pakistani government has pledged to deport hundreds of thousands of Afghan nationals who do not possess recognized refugee status. This includes Afghans who collaborated with the United States and its allies prior to 2021.

A spokesperson from the U.S. Department of State said that Washington is urging Pakistan to adhere to the principle of nonrefoulement, grant entry and extend humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees.

“We consistently raise these issues with Pakistan at the highest levels and will continue to do so,” the spokesperson told VOA on background.

Echoing similar sentiments, the United Nations, along with various human rights organizations, have cautioned Pakistan against a mass deportation, saying such a move could further destabilize Afghanistan’s already dire humanitarian situation and leave some Afghans vulnerable to persecution by the Taliban.

“UNHCR is appealing to Pakistan to continue its protection of all vulnerable Afghans who have sought safety in Pakistan,” the U.N. Refugee Agency said in a statement last week.

The U.N. has offered to help register Afghans who need international protection in Pakistan.

Last week, media advocacy groups also implored Pakistani officials to refrain from deporting scores of Afghan journalists who sought asylum in Pakistan after the Taliban’s return to power.

“At least 200 Afghan journalists are currently refugees in Pakistan, forced to flee the Taliban’s crackdown on press freedom, including draconian restrictions on women journalists, shuttering of media houses, and rampant censorship,” the International Federation of Journalists and its Afghan and Pakistani affiliates said in a joint statement.

Some 1.3 million Afghans are already registered refugees in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials cite security issues as their justification for the potential mass deportation of Afghan refugees, alleging Afghan nationals had roles in multiple terror incidents within Pakistan this year, but offering no evidence.

Independent experts say Islamabad’s intent might be to pressure the nascent Taliban administration in Kabul, given the latter’s perceived inaction against Pakistani Taliban hideouts on Afghan soil.

SIV applicants

Amid concerns that the Taliban continue targeting former Afghan security personnel and human rights activists — charges Taliban officials deny — the U.S. has amplified its efforts to relocate qualifying Afghans under its Special Immigration Visa program, or SIV.

In the past nine months, more than 20,900 Afghans received SIVs — significantly more than the total 11,252 SIVs awarded in 2022.

“At the president’s direction, we have undertaken substantial efforts to improve the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program to streamline the application and adjudication processes, while safeguarding our national security,” the State Department spokesperson told VOA on Friday.

Because the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan remains closed and also because of security threats, many Afghans are opting to journey to Pakistan and other nations to apply for SIVs and other types of visas.

“The Biden administration should speed up SIV and USRAP [U.S. Refugee Admissions Program] processing and work with the Pakistani government to protect Afghan refugees, not send them back to danger,” said Adam Bates, a policy counsel at the International Refugee Assistance Project.

Over 150,000 Afghans have applied for SIVs.

SEE ALSO: Visa Program for Afghans Gains Momentum, Many Applicants Trapped Under Taliban

UK visa

About 3,000 Afghans currently in Pakistan are registered as eligible for resettlement to the United Kingdom under the British government’s two-tiered scheme for relocating at-risk Afghans.

They are “waiting in U.K.-funded hotels in Islamabad for their transfer to the U.K.,” said Sara de Jong, co-founder of Sulha Alliance, a nongovernmental organization advocating for former British military interpreters abroad.

Nearly 7,000 Afghans who worked as interpreters for British forces in Afghanistan have been relocated to the U.K. over the past two years, and some 4,000 applicants are awaiting their turn, according to Britain’s Defense Ministry.

Unlike the U.S., the U.K. has slowed its Afghan resettlement program this year.

“While the Pakistan hotels were initially just used as short-term transits for biometric tests and visa issuance, in December 2022, the U.K. government halted the regular flights because they claimed that there was no longer U.K. accommodation available into which these Afghans could be moved,” de Jong told VOA.

The Taliban maintain that Afghans who worked for the former government and for the U.S. and its allies are covered under their general amnesty and will not face persecution.

Their claim is repudiated in reports from the U.N. and human rights groups documenting extrajudicial detention, torture and assassination of their former enemies by members of the Taliban regime.

“The Taliban have a track record of broken promises, including their promise to respect girls’ right to education, which they are violating every day,” de Jong said, adding that former Afghan interpreters face grave risks to their lives in Afghanistan.

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