U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Pakistan



Refoulement/Physical Protection

Some 450,000 Afghans returned to Afghanistan with the help of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Despite the Government's claims that all repatriations were voluntary, many Afghans felt coerced to leave despite insecurity in Afghanistan. Refugees in all cities reported eviction notices and police harassment and one refugee reported that Pakistani Police had razed his home to the ground and severely beat his children. Some refugees were able to escape abuse by paying steep bribes to police.

In May, President Pervez Musharraf, asked the UN to repatriate all Afghan refugees and closed 32 camps with over 400,000 inhabitants, claiming the camps along the Afghan border and around Islamabad were security risks. Upon eviction, refugees could return to Afghanistan or move to a different camp.

Since 1979, Pakistan provided temporary protection to millions of Afghans as prima facie refugees. A census the Government conducted found over 3 million Afghans living in Pakistan, 1.2 million of them in camps. The census also reported that 82 percent of them were unwilling to return to Afghanistan because of insecurity and lack of economic opportunity. Afghans continued to enter Pakistan, at times as many as 10,000 a day.

Pakistan was not party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol and had no legislation to recognize refugees. UNHCR performed all refugee status determinations. The Government allowed Afghans that UNHCR determined to be refugees to remain until the expiration of the Tripartite Agreement in December 2006.

There were some 17,000 displaced Kashmiris in a refugee-like situation in the Pakistani side of the line of demarcation between Pakistan and India.

Detention/Access to Courts

In April, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported the arrest of and denial of legal aid to 2,500 Afghan refugees for violation of the Foreigner's Act. In May, Pakistani security forces raided and detained five refugees at a football game between two teams of Afghan refugees at which persons raised Indian, Northern Alliance, and Taliban flags. Police harassed registered Afghans, non-registered Afghans, and Pakistanis alike. As of October, the Government dismissed four Pakistani police officers because of complaints by refugees and the Afghan embassy in Pakistan.

Pakistan regulated all refugee activity under the Foreigners Act of 1946, which authorized the arrest and detention of undocumented aliens, making no exception for refugees. Foreigners who knowingly entered Pakistan without valid documentation were subject to as many as 10 years in prison with a fine. No Afghans and only a few non-Afghan refugees possessed government-issued documentation.

Only Pakistani citizens could claim Constitutional rights. Refugees had access to the courts in criminal and civil matters, but the courts were largely ineffective – even for Pakistanis – due to corruption. In May, Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid, in collaboration with UNHCR, established the Advice and Legal Aid Center in Karachi to provide legal services to refugees in need.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Although the Foreigners Act allowed civil authorities to restrict the movement and residence of foreigners, Afghan refugees freely moved and settled in any part of the country – except in the refugee camps the Government had closed. Since 2004, the Government restricted the ability of refugees to obtain drivers licenses.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The Foreigners Act prohibited employers from hiring "a person who has no permission to stay in Pakistan." In formal trade, refugees required Pakistani partners and could not hold immovable property or the necessary legal documents to run a business on their own. In the North-West Frontier Province, Afghan refugees dominated the transportation industry. In light of the expiration of the Tripartite Agreement, although later extended through 2006, some Pakistanis reneged on debts owed to Afghans.

According to the census, only 9 percent of Afghans reported having regular jobs, 55 percent of households depended on day labor for their livelihood, and 20 percent described themselves as self-employed. Because the economic contribution of refugees to the informal economy was significant, police crackdowns were rare.

Taliban sympathizers harassed some female refugees employed by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Local communities discriminated against refugees, blaming them for a lack of employment and high crime rates; single women, female-headed households and child street-workers were susceptible to abuse.

Public Relief and Education

Despite having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Pakistan refused entry of refugee children in public schools. Outside of camps, refugees had to pay for education. Inside many of the camps, NGOs provided primary education to about 170,000 children. As the Government closed refugee camps, refugee children lost their education. At two such camps, seven schools were closed, depriving 3,300 children of instruction. The Government asked Afghans and all other foreigners to leave the Islamic madrassas.

International organizations provided health services in more than 100 camps, employing some 5,000 health workers. According to UNHCR and the World Health Organization, such services in the camps were superior to those available to the host population or in Afghanistan. Refugees in urban areas had little or no access to primary health services.


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