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Pakistan's repatriation of Afghan refugees 'world's largest forced return'

The report claims that Pakistani police even resort to threats, overnight raids and extortion in order to drive the Afghan refugees away. Photograph: (AFP)

AFP Kabul, Afghanistan Feb 13, 2017, 10.04 AM (IST)

Pakistan is resorting to threats, coercion and abuse to deport Afghans refugees, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

The report was also damning about the UN refugee agency, accusing it of colluding with local government apparatus of promoting the mass expatriation.

Titled 'Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity: The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees', HRW dubbed the repatriation the world's largest forced return of refugees.

"After decades of hosting Afghan refugees, Pakistan in mid-2016 unleashed the world's largest recent anti-refugee crackdowns to coerce their mass return," said Gerry Simpson, a refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. 

"Because the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) didn't stand up publicly to Pakistan's bullying and abuses, international donors should step in to press the government and UN to protect the remaining Afghan refugees in Pakistan," Simpson further said.

The piece also attacked the police for intimidating Afghan refugees to deport them. 

The report further said: "For most of the past 40 years, Pakistan has hosted well over a million Afghans, among the largest refugee populations in the world. But over the past two years, Pakistan has turned on the Afghan community. In response to several deadly security incidents and deteriorating political relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities have mounted a concerted campaign to drive Afghans out of the country." 

"In July, 11 soldiers and police came to our home at 3 am. They entered without asking and threw all our things on the floor. They demanded to see our refugee cards and said they were expired," a 26-year-old Afghan was quoted as saying.

"Then they stole all our money and told us to leave Pakistan," said the man, who returned to Kabul with his wife and two children. 

The report was also critical of the UNHCR, saying that by doubling its cash grants to Afghans returning from Pakistan to $400, it was effectively encouraging the exodus.

"The UN refugee agency should end the fiction that the mass forced return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan is, in fact, mass voluntary return," Simpson said. 

"If UNHCR feels that giving cash to returning refugees is the best way to help them survive in Afghanistan, it should at the very least make clear it does not consider their return to be voluntary."

(WION with inputs from AFP)

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