Despite Afghanistan being governed by the Taliban – known for their human rights violations and practices of gender apartheid – Afghan refugees are globally at risk of being denied pathways for asylum, denied asylum, and/or being deported.
Many of the states engaged in these exclusionary practices are directly responsible for terror-making, war, occupation and undevelopment in Afghanistan and for robbing the Afghan people of their right to live and thrive in their own country with dignity and as self-determined people.
In the UK, over 1,000 Afghans who fled the Taliban with British support have been told they will be made homeless days before Christmas – a move that is creating an environment of hostility designed to coerce Afghans into ‘self-repatriating’ to Afghanistan. Harrowing events are also unfolding in Pakistan.
Here, Red Pepper hosts an abridged version of a solidarity statement compiled by the Afghan Reparations Collective – a non-hierarchical coalition who labour towards justice, reparations, and solidarity with the peoples of Afghanistan in and outside of the country. Over 475 people have signed the statement to date, including writers, artists, organisers, organisations, scholars, and concerned individuals who demand an end to deportations of Afghans in Pakistan and elsewhere.
It calls on people everywhere to work urgently, collaboratively and creatively, through small and large acts of solidarity and civil disobedience, to upend the planned action to deport Afghans from Pakistan:
What is happening? Millions at risk
In early October, the government of Pakistan announced a deadline for all ‘undocumented Afghans’ – essentially Afghans seeking refuge but denied this status by the government – to leave the country by 1 November 2023. The demand was qualified through unproven accusations of Afghans being involved in ‘terrorism’.
It has put all Afghans at risk. Eye-witnesses and media outlets have reported Afghan homes and shops being demolished by law-enforcement agencies; growing cases of illegal detention; widespread harassment of Afghans by law-enforcement agencies, and Afghan families being forced to cross the border into Afghanistan.
Experiences of criminalisation and discrimination are not new for Afghans in Pakistan. They directly follow discriminatory British colonial laws, wars and border-making in Afghanistan and adjacent geographies, which were inherited unchallenged by the post-independence governments of Pakistan.
Demands for Afghans to leave Pakistan are also linked to Pakistan’s often hostile relationship with its own ethnic minorities, specifically those who reside in or originate from border areas of Pashtuns, Baloch, and Hazaras, who have long faced discrimination and who, when Afghans are being forced to leave Pakistan, that their own right to belong in Pakistan is questioned. Pakistani Pashtuns have, for example, been stripped of citizenship – a process that is managed by biometric computerised ID cards – then burdened with the lengthy bureaucratic task of proving they are ‘native’ to Pakistan.
Who are Pakistan’s Afghans?
Afghans are in Pakistan because other states and actors – the Soviet Union, the US, the U.K, countries in the EU and Gulf Arab region, Iran, and indeed Pakistan itself – have driven war and denied Afghan self-determination and sovereignty for over forty years. ‘We are here because you were there’, so to speak.
From the late 1970s until the mid-2000s, through a prima facie (on first encounter) status, any Afghan who entered Pakistan was considered a refugee. After 2001’s ‘War on Terror’, when war raged in Afghanistan led by the US government with Pakistan as a key ally, the US claimed defeat of the Taliban and declared Afghanistan a ‘safe country’ – making Afghans’ asylum claims null and void.
Demands for Afghans to leave are linked to Pakistan’s often hostile relationship with its own ethnic minorities, specifically those who reside in or originate from border areas
Pakistan is nonetheless currently home to over 4 million Afghans, including Afghans denied a legal plan and settlement status; registered refugees; visa holders, and others. Afghans of all ethnicities live in Pakistan. After August 2021, conservative accounts estimate that 600,000 Afghans sought refuge in Pakistan – some still considered to be ‘in transit’, awaiting relocation to countries such as the UK, US, Canada, Germany. The remainder do not hold any legal status, do not receive governmental aid and at best receive limited support from international refugee and humanitarian organisations.
The division of Afghans into different legal categories is intentionally ambiguous, inconsistent, and politically duplicitous. People who should be classified as refugees are not. Pakistan’s call to deport people it calls ‘undocumented’ is a way to refuse more recent claimants of refuge from, in practice, not only those arriving after 2021, but all Afghans who entered the country post-2001.
The vast majority of Afghans – at least 90 percent – were either born in Pakistan or have lived in the country for forty years. These millions of persons have quite literally built villages, towns, cities and a shared culture in Pakistan, alongside citizens of Pakistan and other nations in the country. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s more recent Afghan arrivals seek refuge because they are living in a context of permanent war and many are at immediate risk of persecution in Afghanistan.
Pakistan must discuss how – not why – to engage in long-term, constructive legal and socio-economic efforts for the inclusion of Afghans. This must include as a minimum pathways to permanent residency and/or citizenship.
A wider context of humanitarian disaster further underscores the absurdity of the government’s deportation threat. In October, deadly earthquakes killed thousands and left an estimated 15 million Afghans facing acute food insecurity.
Pakistan’s demands mirror the actions of neighbouring Iran, also home to millions of Afghans for over forty years and engaged in mass deportations. These calls for deportation are consequences of failures by the international humanitarian and migration regime – including UN bodies – and by national institutions, which have prioritised ‘repatriation’ as the solution for Afghans in Pakistan (and Iran) where socio-economic and legal integration offer more just and humane solutions.
Yet Pakistan’s brazen call for deportations is directly legitimated by – and also mirrors – the callous actions of governments in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, EU and other states that are the architects of a global anti-poor and racialising migration regime. Their actions to close safe routes to asylum, delay asylum applications and deport Afghans – as well as other people who are black, brown, Muslim and/or from the global South – is accepted, encouraged, and enforced.
Against the logics of these regimes, we recognise all Afghans are a part of Pakistan and must be formally recognised as such, through permanent residency and/or citizenship and by upholding principles of refuge. All paths to freedom are interconnected and, instead of pitting oppressed groups against each other, the struggles of Afghans must be connected to the struggles of ethnic and religious minorities, political dissidents, displaced Pakistanis, women, and others in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s call for deportations is legitimated by the callous actions of other governments that are the architects of a global anti-poor and racialising migration regime
We understand this struggle is also connected to the struggles of Afghans globally, as well as oppressed people, refugees, and migrants across the world. From Kabul to Karachi, from Gaza to Khartoum, from Mogadishu to Tripoli, from London to Paris: we are free only when we are all free.
We pledge to contribute in everyday life – on the street, in conversations, on social media, in institutions, universities, by any means necessary, and in all spaces, to the intentional de-criminalisation of Afghans, and all other marginalised communities in Pakistan.
Our calls to action
We call on concerned individuals, activists, communities, and organisations in Pakistan and its diaspora to:
- Stand in solidarity with Afghans in Pakistan as a matter of their right and your/our obligation, not as charity or humanitarianism;
- Reject attempts to divide ethnic and religious minorities and nations within the country;
- Document report, and reject the harassment of Afghans by law-enforcement agencies;
- Educate others to reject the systematic, historical, structural criminalisation of Afghans other refugee and migrant groups, to reject the discrimination that accompanies such rhetoric, and to actively create new languages and practices of equality – and thus liberation for us all;
- Hold journalists and media content producers (social media accounts, television dramas, news discussion shows) to account when they reproduce tropes and regurgitate unverified accusations about Afghans.
We call on concerned individuals, activists, communities, and organisations working with Afghans globally – especially in Iran, the U.K., E.U. states, the U.S., Canada, and Australia – to:
- Stand in solidarity with Afghans;
- Organise to protect Afghan community members from racist violence.
We call on the states that have driven conflict in Afghanistan to:
- Acknowledge their responsibility toward the peoples of Afghanistan wherever they are – not in the language of charity or humanitarianism, but as their right;
- Immediately end the deportations of Afghans in Pakistan and elsewhere.
We call on governments that have agreed to relocate Afghan nationals to their countries – including the UK, Germany, Canada, and others, especially the US (which collects millions of dollars in visa fees to leave Afghans in perpetual limbo) – to:
- Urgently speed up the relocation of thousands of Afghan nationals stuck ‘in transit’ in Pakistan;
- Immediately open up safe routes of asylum for Afghans (and all people seeking refuge).
We call on UN bodies in Pakistan to:
- Immediately refocus their refugee and migration management ‘solutions’ away from supporting repatriation programmes to advocating for the long-term legal rights of Afghans in Pakistan.
We call on the Government of Pakistan to:
- Stop arbitrarily detaining and harassing Afghans;
- Stop demolishing Afghans’ homes;
- Reverse demands for Afghans to leave Pakistan;
- Immediately stop deportations;
- Stop xenophobically constructing Afghans – a vulnerable population – as scapegoats for the deeper rooted reasons for the country’s vulnerability to lethal attacks;
- Offer protection to all Afghans who have sought safety in the country and could be at risk if forced to return to Afghanistan;
- Open pathways for Afghans who the government calls ‘undocumented’ to be included into a system of refuge;
- Allow a legal refugee and asylum framework to develop within Pakistan, including pathways to long-term residency and/or citizenship – the only way to meaningfully integrate and manage the country’s sizable refugee populations.
Read the full statement and list of signatories here,