Threat of forced return of Afghan human rights defenders at risk
Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned by the threat of forced return of Afghan human rights defenders at risk who have sought refuge in Pakistan, especially following the Taliban takeover in August 2021. Human rights defenders facing reprisals for their human rights work in Afghanistan, have been compelled to flee their homes and enter neighbouring countries to seek safety and refuge. Front Line Defenders has repeatedly called for the protection of and for the safety of those defenders remaining in neighbouring countries without recourse to effective protection including from forced return.
Human rights defenders in Afghanistan are facing systemic persecution including physical violence, arbitrary detention, torture, killings, raids, and attacks on family members. Women human rights defenders, especially those peacefully protesting for their rights and fundamental freedoms have been repeatedly targeted. Religous and ethnic minorities are at heightened risk of persecution and violence. For human rights defenders at risk, there is currently no effective protection mechanism inside Afghanistan that can respond to their needs. All calls for urgent actions and interventions to the Taliban to uphold basic standards of human rights have failed to yield practical results.
For those human rights defenders facing violence and persecution, there are few options except to flee their homes. Many have relocated several times within Afghanistan, or suffered arrest, torture and brutal violence before making the difficult decision to leave their country and flee accross the border. Afghans human rights defenders at risk are faced with few options, and continue to face threats, violence, and especially the fear of forced return, even once they leave Afghanistan. The international response in ensuring protection, support and services in host countries has been wholly inadequate. There has also been limited spaces for permanent resettlement for Afghan human rights defenders at risk who are stuck indefinitely without solution for themselves and their families.
Pakistan’s announcement on 3 October 2023 that all ‘illegal immigrants’ must leave Pakistan by 1 November 2023 to avoid mass arrest and deportation, will have devastating consequences. The government announcement states that if they (unregistered asylum seekers) do not go... then all the law enforcement agencies in the provinces or federal government will be utilized to deport them’.
This policy is in direct violation of Pakistan’s international obligations and exposes a large number of persons including human rights defenders to grave risks. Front Line Defenders documentation evidences the threats and violence faced by defenders in Afghanistan and the immediate risk to their lives if forcibly returned.
Front Line Defenders calls on Pakistan authorities to protect Afghan human rights defenders at risk who have sought refuge from persecution. This includes protection from forced return to Afghanistan where there is a credible risk of persecution and harm to human rights defenders and their families. Recognising the role already played by neighbouring countries, we call on the international community to respond with adequate measures to support those in transit countries including by ensuring speedy resettlement of human rights defenders at risk, and ensuring access to services, support and protection in neighbouring countries.