Fleeing Afghanistan to Pakistan
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor LinkedinDanielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
We act on behalf of two Afghani women who escaped to Pakistan in an attempt to join their sponsor in the UK. We instructed a country expert to tell us what the situation on the ground was. Pakistan is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention relating to status of refugees also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention. The Government of Pakistan has no national legislation concerning refugees and therefore has no refugee law to speak of. However, throughout history Afghanis have escaped to Pakistan, for example, during the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979. Once the conflict was over, it was expected that the Afghani refugees were to be repatriated peacefully back to Afghanistan and therefore no right of Pakistani citizenship or permanent residency for Afghan nationals residing in Pakistan or their children was to be given.
Once the Taliban took over power in August 2021 a large number of Afghan refugees crossed the Pakistani border. The Pakistani Ministry of State and Interior regimes estimate the number of undocumented Afghans to be between 300/400,000. The UNHCR reported in January 2023 that an estimated 600,000 Afghans have fled into Pakistan since the Taliban accession to power in 2021. Many Afghans who have found themselves in Pakistan overstaying their initial visa are awaiting for the asylum claims to be processed by the UNHCR.
A considerable portion of the recent arrivals were women and girls who fled Afghanistan once the Taliban came to power and stripped them of their rights. Like in every case with refugees, the conditions for women and children is particularly precarious because their vulnerability is compounded by their gender, age and lack of connections with the local community. According to the latest Amnesty International Report dated 20th June 2023, the Government of Pakistan has been arbitrarily arresting and harassing Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom are fleeing persecution by the Taliban and according to Amnesty International they have been subjected to arbitrary detention, arrest and threat of deportation, due to the delays in the registration process.
The report highlights that the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, is responsible for registering Afghans seeking asylum and providing them with proof of registration cards and determining whether they are refugees. However, the registration process has been slow and inefficient. Amnesty International report the refugees who lack the necessary documents face significant challenges. Their homes are occasionally raided and ransacked, that they live in an environment of fear and uncertainty, they face significant barriers to accessing essential services, and employment without proper documentation or clear legal status. The situation for Afghan women and girls is even more challenging. In addition to the barriers faced by all Afghan refugees, they also face gender discrimination. This discriminate can manifest itself in various ways, such as Societal attitudes that devalues the education of girls, safety concerns in relation to attending school and discriminatory practices within education itself.
The report states that countries like the UK, US, Canada and Germany which offered special relocation schemes to Afghan individuals facing persecution by the Taliban, have not solved the problems. These schemes are deeply flawed with a complicated visa issuing process and lack of safe and legal routes for them to reach these countries. The UK Government’s offer of assistance to endangered Afghans is described by Amnesty International as “grossly flawed and utterly inadequate”.
Our clients who have fled Afghanistan to Pakistan find themselves in a distressing situation in Pakistan, living in constant fear and uncertainty. They are women who have already escaped the terror of their own homelands fleeting the Taliban, taking refugee in Pakistan in unfamiliar territory when they are exposed to more forms of persecution. They have only temporary status, they live without proof of registration cards, which means that they are liable to arbitrary detention, risk of deportation and their mobility is severely restricted due to fear and insecurity and so they are confined to their homes. They are subject to discrimination and at risk of exploitation by the local population and the authorities and the risk of forced return to Afghanistan. Furthermore, the situation is particularly difficult given that Pakistan has been named the sixth most dangerous country in the world for women. Afghan women in Afghanistan as mentioned above face gender based discrimination that restricts their access to education, healthcare and employment opportunities.