Joint UNHCR / IOM / UNICEF Press Release
Islamabad, 3 November 2023: UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, IOM, the UN Migration Agency and UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, are deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of children and families affected by the ‘Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan’ and alarmed at the potential consequences of this plan’s implementation.
The majority are Afghans now returning out of fear of arrest or deportation in Pakistan. Afghanistan is deep in the grips of a humanitarian crisis, with ongoing human rights challenges and an impeding harsh winter. Almost 30 million people require humanitarian assistance and 3.3 million are internally displaced. Since 15 September 2023, an estimated 160,000 Afghans have left Pakistan. Among those, 86 percent of families reported fear of arrest as the most common reason for leaving the overwhelming majority departing in a rush, and without assistance.
Pakistan has a proud tradition of hosting refugees, saving millions of lives. This generosity is still needed.
Although the Government of Pakistan’s plan specifies repatriation of undocumented foreigners during phase one, there are reports of registered refugees and Afghans possessing legal documents, including Afghan Citizenship Card holders and Afghans scheduled for resettlement being pressurised despite assurances they will be protected. Those include children and women. IOM has received reports of persons being targeted in their homes.
Children face serious protection risks while on the move in Pakistan, in detention centres, crossing borders and upon return to Afghanistan. In these situations, children face risks of physical threats to their safety, family separation, distress, fear, abuse and exploitation. Children’s access to services including education and healthcare and basic necessities such as food and shelter can be severely disrupted.
More registered Afghan refugees are also approaching UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation centres in Peshawar and Quetta asking to be assisted to return. UNHCR and IOM are stepping up their capacity to help. Voluntary returns are generally slower during the winter.
“Any return needs to be voluntary and done in a safe and orderly manner, with full respect for rights and protection of those in need” stressed UNHCR’s Representative, Philippa Candler.
UNHCR and IOM have undertaken intensive engagement with the authorities in Pakistan, including advocating that those whose safety may be at risk are exempted from the government’s deadline for undocumented foreigners to leave by November 1.
‘’We are appealing to the authorities not to force vulnerable people, including children and families, back to a situation where their lives may be at risk’’ said IOM’s Chief of Mission, Mio Sato.
UNHCR and IOM reiterate their offer to support Pakistan in developing a mechanism to register, manage, and screen people who need continued protection in the country.
“At this time of increased vulnerability, UNICEF calls on the Government of Pakistan to fulfill its obligations to uphold and protect the rights of all children within its borders. A child is a child. Children everywhere must be protected at all times to live with dignity, so they can grow, learn and reach their full potential,” said UNICEF Pakistan Representative, Abdullah Fadil.
UNHCR, IOM and UNICEF continue to appeal to the international community to increase support for hosting vulnerable children and families and refugees in Pakistan.
UNHCR: Qaiser Khan Afridi, UNHCR Pakistan Spokesperson, [email protected] / +92-300-5018696
IOM: Suzana Paklar, Senior Program Coordinator, [email protected] / +92-300-5005862
UNICEF: A. Sami Malik, UNICEF Pakistan, [email protected] / +92-300-8556654