Three U.N. agencies on Friday called for the protection of children and families as Pakistan has started a campaign to deport foreigners residing illegally in Pakistan, as reported by Dawn on Saturday. The U.N. agencies say children face serious protection risks while on the move in Pakistan, in detention centres, crossing borders and upon return to Afghanistan.
UNHCR – the U.N. refugee agency, IOM – the U.N. migration agency, and Unicef – the U.N. children’s fund, continue to appeal to the international community to increase support for hosting vulnerable children and families and refugees in Pakistan, said a press release issued by the three U.N. agencies on Friday.
Children face risks of physical threats to their safety, family separation, distress, fear, abuse and exploitation. Additionally, UNHCR and IOM have reaffirmed their commitment to assisting Pakistan in developing a mechanism for the registration, management, and screening of individuals in need of ongoing protection within the country, Dawn reported.
The majority are Afghans now returning out of fear of arrest or deportation in Pakistan. Afghanistan is currently grappling with a humanitarian crisis marked by ongoing human rights challenges and the looming threat of a harsh winter. Approximately 30 million people in the country require humanitarian assistance, with 3.3 million being internally displaced, Dawn reported.
Children face grave protection risks while on the move in Pakistan, in detention centres, during border crossings, and upon their return to Afghanistan. These risks encompass physical threats to their safety, family separation, distress, fear, abuse, and exploitation. Furthermore, children’s access to essential services such as education, healthcare, and basic necessities, including food and shelter, is severely disrupted, Dawn reported.
Since September 15, 2023, an estimated 160,000 Afghans have left Pakistan, with 86 per cent of families citing fear of arrest as the primary reason for their hurried departure. Despite assurances of protection, there are reports of registered refugees and Afghans with legal documents, including Afghan Citizenship Card holders and those scheduled for resettlement, facing pressure. This pressure extends to children and women, with reports of individuals being targeted in their homes.
A growing number of registered Afghan refugees are approaching UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation centres in Peshawar and Quetta, seeking assistance for their return. UNHCR and IOM are increasing their capacity to provide support, though the process tends to be slower during the winter. “Any return needs to be voluntary and done in a safe and orderly manner, with full respect for the rights and protection of those in need,” stressed Philippa Candler, UNHCR’s representative.
UNHCR and IOM have engaged intensively with Pakistani authorities, advocating for exemptions from the government’s November 1 deadline for undocumented foreigners to leave, particularly for those whose safety may be at risk. ”We are appealing to the authorities not to force vulnerable people, including children and families, back to a situation where their lives may be at risk,” said Mio Sato, IOM’s Chief of Mission.
Unicef has called upon the government to fulfil its obligations to uphold and protect the rights of all children within its borders, emphasising that children, regardless of their location, must be safeguarded at all times to lead dignified lives and reach their full potential, Dawn reported.