SC Urged To Hold Early Hearing For Petitions Challenging Forced Repatriation Of Afghans

Petitioner and former senator Farhatullah Babar writes to SC registrar stressing that delays in holding a hearing could mean the difference between thousands of Afghan refugees getting deported

SC Urged To Hold Early Hearing For Petitions Challenging Forced Repatriation Of Afghans

Former senator and Pakistan People Party (PPP) leader Farhatullah Babar has approached the registrar of the Supreme Court, requesting an early hearing of his petition on Afghan refugees. 

Babar is one of the petitioners who has challenged the caretaker government's policy to deport illegal migrants, asylum seekers and Afghan refugees.

"The case was filed four days earlier, i.e. on the November 4, however, it has still not been allotted a case number," Babar stated in a letter sent by his lawyer, Umer Ijaz Gillani. 

"In the meantime, thousands of people are suffering on a daily basis," the letter added. 

Babar requested the Supreme Court registrar to take notice of the urgency of the matter and take all necessary steps to uphold the law and the Constitution in providing inexpensive and expeditious justice. 

The other petitioners 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.

The petition contended that the government's decision to expel immigrants was a "massive violation of fundamental rights of around 4.4 million persons of Afghan origin who are for the time being in Pakistan".

It said that the decision amounted to reversing Pakistan's "45-year-old policy of extending hospitality to refugees, asylum seekers and even unregistered immigrants — a strategic decision which falls completely beyond the limited constitutional mandate of the caretaker government".

"Since this repatriation is not voluntary, nor is the government of Afghanistan facilitating the same, it is possible that many of those being deported will die of cold and hunger — amongst them would be Pakistani citizens and genuine refugees who never stood a chance to prove their legal claims," the petition warned.

It said that the issue of deporting undocumented Afghans had been brought up before elected federal cabinets, which had opted for "more nuanced and humane solutions" rather than a mass deportation policy.

The petition said that while the government's decision was "framed in somewhat neutral language", it was "obviously targeted at the millions of Afghan refugees who are compelled by circumstances to live in Pakistan".

"It is extremely disturbing that instead of doing its job — preparing for elections — the caretaker government is taking strategic policy decisions whose consequence will be borne by the people of this country," the plea said.

The plea urged the court to declare the government's decision to expel illegal immigrants as "illegal and unconstitutional" and to set it aside.

It also urged the court to restrain the federation from "detaining, forcefully deporting or otherwise harassing anyone who is either a refugee or an asylum seeker" and possessed proof of registration (PoR), Afghan citizenship cards (ACC), an asylum seeker application issued by the UNHCR or a pre-screening slip issued by its partners.

It also called on the court to restrain the federation from "detaining, forcefully deporting or otherwise harassing anyone who was born in Pakistan and has a claim to birthright citizenship".

It urged the court to direct the federation to permit UNHCR and its partner organisations to register and "expeditiously process and decide all asylum-seeking applications filed by foreigners presently residing in Pakistan."

It also called for the federation to be directed to coordinate with federal and provincial law enforcement agencies to "secure the fundamental rights of all persons for the time being in Pakistan".

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