Pakistan has launched a concerted campaign to push Afghan refugees out of the country, a move considered the “world’s largest unlawful” removal of refugees, according to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that warns the move may further strain conflict between the two neighboring countries.
“The exodus [of Afghan refugees] amounts to the world’s largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times,” notes HRW. “Pakistani authorities have made clear in public statements they want to see similar numbers return to Afghanistan in 2017.”
In Afghanistan, jihadi activities by groups such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their mutual rival the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) have rendered the Afghanistan-Pakistan regions one of the largest concentration of terrorist groups in the world, according to the United Nations.
Pakistan and Afganistan have blamed each other for the insecurity and economic woes facing their respective countries.
For most of the past 40 years, Pakistan has hosted well over a million Afghans, among the largest refugee populations in the world. But over the past two years, Pakistan has turned on the Afghan community. In response to several deadly security incidents and deteriorating political relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities have mounted a concerted campaign to drive Afghans out of the country.
In the second half of 2016, a toxic combination of deportation threats and police abuses pushed out nearly 365,000 of the country’s 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees, as well as just over 200,000 of the country’s estimated 1 million undocumented Afghans. The exodus amounts to the world’s largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times. Pakistani authorities have made clear in public statements they want to see similar numbers return to Afghanistan in 2017.
Throughout the war in Afghanistan, Afghan nationals have fled to neighboring countries, namely Pakistan and Iran to seek refuge.
“For decades, next-door Pakistan has provided a safety valve for Afghans who fled successive periods of conflict and repression, hosting up to 5 million at a time,” notes HRW
Although some countries have not openly welcome residents from Afghanistan, the U.N. has provided Pakistan assistance to help resettle the Afghan refugees.
Moreover, the U.S. Congress has appropriated funding — more than $950 million — to the Department of State for refugee assistance for Afghan refugees.