HRCP questions voluntary nature of refugees’ repatriation

Press release, 24 June 2009

Lahore: The repatriation of registered Afghan refugees from Pakistan does not meet the required standard of voluntarism deemed mandatory by international refugee law, a report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has said.

The report entitled ‘Push Comes to Shove’ – whose publication coincided with the World Refugee Day, June 20 – studies the trends and patterns of repatriation of Afghan refugees through 2007 and 2008 to determine whether the process was voluntary.

The study conducted by HRCP’s Peshawar chapter says that even though many Afghan refugees in Pakistan signed up for repatriation, large numbers did so not because they thought that it was safe to return, but because they believed they had no choice in the matter.

Refugees interviewed from camps slated for closure spoke of harassment by police, lack of security, basic infrastructure, education, health and livelihood opportunities in Afghanistan as the main reason for their hesitation to return.

All Afghan refugees registered in Pakistan were required to leave by the end of 2009. Those living in camps slated for closure could opt to relocate to another camp. An overwhelming majority of refugees declined relocation to another camp, not because they were keen to return to Afghanistan but said they would not want to be uprooted again when the December 2009 deadline arrived. That deadline has now been extended to 2012.

According to the report, outside the camps slated for closure, “an environment of persecution and intimidation was created by checking movement of refugees and harassment at the hands of police. In camps, houses were razed and businesses locked, often resulting in confrontation between the authorities and the refugees.”

Repatriation may be the preferred solution for all concerned but adhering to the principle of voluntarism must not be ignored and the needs of refugees with additional vulnerabilities must be considered, the report said.

“Any attempt to repatriate Afghan refugees must take into account their willingness to return and the conditions back home, especially security and shelter,” it added.

I.A. Rehman

Secretary General

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