Afghan refugees who have lived in for decades are being driven out of the country in a wave of harassment by officials, with many facing arbitrary arrests and the destruction of what little property they own, Human Rights Watch has said.
Pakistan’s large population of Afghans has long lived at the margins of society, but a report by the rights group said police intimidation sharply increased after the at Peshawar’s Army Public School in December.
Although authorities found nothing to link any of the 2.5 million Afghans living in Pakistan to the killings, refugees complain of being singled out by police.
Many of the 96 Afghans interviewed by HRW in both Pakistan and described house raids by police, random arrests and the demolition of property.
In one incident, an entire market in Peshawar populated by Afghan stallholders was destroyed without notice in September. “The police officers took away all my vegetables and demolished my shop,” Jalal Shah, a 50-year-old Afghan man who now sells his wares on the street, told the rights group. “The police say that we Afghans have no right to be here and do business.”
Another common practice is the extortion of cash from Afghans, a million of whom are undocumented and have no legal right to remain in Pakistan. “I can no longer afford to pay the bribes,” said Karim, a 42-year-old living in Peshawar. “The police ask for bribes daily. The district administration fines us for no reason.”
Many Afghans said rampant extortion had forced them to return to Afghanistan because they could no longer support themselves and their families in Pakistan.
Despite increasing hostility towards them, many are reluctant to return to Afghanistan at a time when both security and the economy have deteriorated since US-led combat operations came to an official end.
Pakistan has one of the largest refugee populations in the world. Nearly half of Afghans there arrived shortly after Soviet troops took over Afghanistan in December 1979. Pakistan’s government encourage them to settle in large camps near the border.
Millions have returned since the US-led military intervention in 2001. Despite poor security in Afghanistan, the number of refugees who returned in the first two months of 2015, following the Peshawar school attack, jumped by more than 155%, the International Organisation for Migration said.
Mian Saeed, a senior police officer in Peshawar, said efforts to repatriate Afghan refugees were part of a national action plan drawn up in the wake of the school killings.
He said especially strict action was taken against those who did not have registration papers. More than 500 search operations had been conducted in Peshawar in the last 10 months, he said, and more than 100 Afghan clerics had been asked to leave Pakistan because they were inciting protest against the government.