Supreme Court Hears Challenge To Government's Afghan Repatriation Policy

The Supreme Court has taken up a petition seeking restraining orders against the government's decision to forcibly repatriate undocumented Afghan nationals and refugees.

Supreme Court Hears Challenge To Government's Afghan Repatriation Policy

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court observed that Pakistan is signatory to United Nations conventions that protected the rights of refugees on Friday.

The observation came from top court's Justice Ayesha Malik, member of three-judge bench headed by Justice Sardar Tariq Masood that took up a petition seeking restraining orders against the caretaker government’s decision to forcibly repatriate Afghan nationals and refugees.

The top court has issued notices to the Federation, the Apex Committee and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Terming the decision regarding deportation of illegal Afghan Immigrants as a matter of constitutional interpretation, the top court has also issued a notice to the Attorney General for Pakistan to assist whether a larger bench should be constituted.

During the course of hearing, one of the petitioners Farhat Ullah Babar informed the bench that Afghan citizens are being treated inhumanely.vHe contended that the caretaker government has no constitutional mandate to deport illegal Afghan refugees, adding that those who are being deported have applied for political asylum.

Justice Yahya Afridi, member of the bench, questioned what fundamental rights of the petitioners have been affected?

To this, the petitioner responded that Articles 4, 9, 10A and 25 of the Constitution are being violated, arguing that this court has jurisdiction to protect the rights of the citizens on country's land.

Justice Sardar Tariq Masood said that assist the court on whether those who have been living here for forty years should stay.

Later, the top court issued notices and adjourned the hearing of the case till next week.

The other petitioners in the case include Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan Senator Mushtaq Ahmed, rights activist Amina Masood Janjua, National Democratic Movement Chairman Mohsin Dawar, lawyer Jibran Nasir, Rohail Kasi, Syed Muaz Shah, Pastor Ghazala Parveen, lawyer Iman Zainab Mazari, Ahmad Shabbar, Advocate Imran Shafiq, Luke Victor and Sijal Shafiq.

Advocate Umer Gillani is appearing on behalf of petitioners.

The petition seeks restraining order against the forcible deportation or harassment of anyone born in Pakistan and having a claim to birthright citizenship in accordance with Section 4 of the Citizenship Act, 1951, as well as the ruling of the Islamabad High Court in the 2021 case of Hafiz Hamdullah Saboor.

It is the case of petitioners that "impugned directive" being undertaken by the "apex committee" of the caretaker cabinet "effectively amounted to a reversal of a 45-year-old Pakistani state policy of hospitality and leniency towards refugees, asylum-seekers and other migrants from the Afghan borders".

The plea argued that the federal government should be asked to permit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partner organizations to register, expedite the processing, and decide on all asylum-seeking applications filed by foreigners currently residing in Pakistan

The petitioners claimed that the government’s policy had failed to provide any mechanism for distinguishing between birthright citizens and illegal immigrants.

The federal government initiated a crackdown against "undocumented" Afghan nationals - essentially people seeking refuge in the country and awaiting legal formalities.

Since November 1, 2023, the state has kicked off a campaign to forcibly evict around 1.3 million such people under the garb of addressing the issue of "illegal migrants" on whom it has placed the burden of the country's worsening economic and security concerns.

The federal government had in October given a month to all illegal migrants in the country to leave without facing any legal consequences. After the expiration of this deadline, the government said that it would deport all illegal foreign nationals, including Afghan refugees who were not documented. However, the period saw a crackdown on even legal and documented refugees, and some 200,000 Afghan refugees were forced to return by the time the petition was filed.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain