Pakistani police have detained at least 1,200 Afghan migrants, including women and children, who reached the southern port city of Karachi without the necessary documentation, according to The Diplomat magazine.
After pictures of imprisoned Afghan youngsters appeared online, the arrests sparked criticism from Afghanistan and UN organisations. The Washington-based magazine stated quoting officials that the
detentions highlighted the poor relations between the two South Asian neighbours.
Police and local government officials said the detainees will be deported to Afghanistan after serving their sentences or when the paperwork for their release is completed. The local officials claimed that most of the detainees wish to return home.
On Thursday, the UN Refugee Agency raised an alarm over images and reports of the arrest and detention of Afghan refugees. “UNHCR is extremely concerned to see images and reports of the arrest and detention of Afghan @refugees in Sindh province, particularly Karachi. Irrespective of their status, children and families should not be behind bars,” United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) mission in Pakistan said on Twitter.
On Friday, Sindh Minister Sharjeel Memon said 129 Afghan female illegal immigrants were jailed — with 178 children — but insisted the minors were not under arrest, the Dawn reported. During a press conference in Karachi, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader said the 178 children “staying with their mothers in jails are not under arrest”.
“The law states that any child under the age of seven years may be allowed to stay with their mother in jail,” he was quoted as saying by the Dawn. This response from the Pakistani side comes after a picture of
the jailed children behind bars went viral on social media, triggering strong responses from rights groups.
The UN Refugee Agency said people should not be punished or criminalised for exercising their fundamental human right to seek asylum. It also urged countries neighbouring Afghanistan, including Pakistan, to continue to protect those seeking safety.
“(The) UNHCR has globally called on states to suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals and former habitual residents of Afghanistan until such time as the security, rule of law and human rights situation in Afghanistan has significantly improved,” the Commission said.
“In this respect, UNHCR’s Guidance Note on International Protection Needs of People Fleeing Afghanistan underscores the importance of allowing civilians fleeing Afghanistan to access safety and to ensure respect for the principle of non-refoulement at all times,” it added.
The UNHCR has urged governments all over the world to halt forced returns of Afghan nationals and previous long-term residents of that country until the security, legal system, and human rights situation there have dramatically improved, according to the Commission.
In this regard, it went on to say, “UNHCR’s Guidance Note on International Protection Needs of People Fleeing Afghanistan emphasises the necessity of giving civilians to evacuate Afghanistan access to safety and to ensure respect for the principle of non-refoulement at all times.