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Pakistan: Forcible return of refugees

, Index number: ASA 33/016/2000

Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan have closed their borders to refugees fleeing northern Afghanistan, in violation of international law. Almost 80,000 people are fleeing the fighting in the region, and a serious drought has put the population at risk of starvation.

PUBLIC AI Index: ASA 33/16/00
UA 350/00 Forcible return of refugees 14 November 2000
PAKISTAN/TAJIKISTAN/IRANRefugees from Afghanistan
Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan have closed their borders to refugees fleeing
northern Afghanistan, in violation of international law. Almost 80,000 people
are fleeing the fighting in the region, and a serious drought has put the
population at risk of starvation.
Fighting in Afghanistan’s northern Takhar Province has intensified recently,
as the Taleban and anti-Taleban alliance fight for control of territory.
Civilians are believed to have been targeted in Takhar, causing many more
refugees to flee and leaving many others internally displaced. These border
closures could have disastrous consequences for Afghans fleeing the fighting
and drought affecting this region of the country.
Pakistan closed its North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan border
to Afghan refugees without valid travel documents late last week. Afghan
refugees, who almost never have travel documents, have recently been fleeing
to the NWFP in increasing numbers, according to the UN, with almost 30,000
crossing since early September. Over 1.2 million Afghan refugees are now
estimated to be living in Pakistan.
Taleban guards are reportedly stopping Afghan refugees at checkpoints on the
road from Jalalabad to the Torkham border crossing with Pakistan, reportedly
beating many of them. Those without written permission to cross from both Taleban
and Pakistani officials are being turned back. Restrictions are particularly
applied to families travelling with women.
The Tajik government reportedly closed its border with Afghanistan in
mid-September. In early November, Russian-led border guards in Tajikistan
reportedly turned back over 100 refugees fleeing the fighting in Afghanistan.
Some 3,000 Afghan refugees were reportedly camped on the border at the time,
apparently hoping to flee to Tajikistan.
In May, the Iranian parliament voted to close, in principle, its border with
Afghanistan, supposedly to prevent drug-smuggling. Iran has repatriated over
60,000 Afghan refugees since 8 April, under a voluntary program, jointly
implemented with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Amnesty
International has called on the Iranian government to ensure that all returns
are indeed voluntary and properly screened. Over 1.4 million Afghans are
estimated to be living in Iran.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
The Taleban, who now reportedly control over 90% of Afghanistan, are fighting
for control of the rest of the country with the anti-Taleban alliance, which
is composed of former Mujahideen, the Islamic guerillas who fought the occupying
Soviet army from 1979 to 1989.
More than a fifth of Afghanistan’s population - over six million people - have
been forced to flee the country since 1979. Many returned in anticipation of
peace in 1992, when the pro-Soviet government collapsed, but with the continuing
armed conflict and the deteriorating human rights situation in the country
many have chosen not to return. Numbering over two million, Afghans are the
largest single refugee group in the world.
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Under international law, Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan are obliged not to
forcibly return anyone to a country where they would be at risk of serious
human rights violations. Such forcible return is also a violation of the
principle of non-refoulement, which is binding on all states. Under this
principle, countries are obliged to keep their borders open and afford
protection to refugees, even when refugees are entering in large numbers.
Amnesty International notes that the governments of Pakistan, Iran and
Tajikistan have provided assistance to large Afghan refugee populations for
many years, often at great cost. For the past few years the international
community has not provided enough economic assistance to support the refugee
populations in host countries and those at risk of displacement within
Afghanistan. In October, the World Food Programme announced that it had received
only half of the food aid it needs from donor countries to continue its
life-saving activities for the three million Afghans most affected by drought.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the international community
to fulfil their obligation to give host countries the economic assistance they
need to support and protect the large and growing Afghan refugee populations.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/faxes/express/airmail letters in
English or your own language:
- urging the governments of Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan to uphold their
responsibilities under international law not to turn back or forcibly return
refugees to Afghanistan, where they would be at risk of serious human rights
abuses;
- urging these governments not to close their borders to Afghan refugees, whom
they are obliged to admit under international law;
- calling on the director of the Federal Border Guard Service of the Russian
Federation to ensure that the Russian border guards stationed in Tajikistan
do not stop or forcibly return refugees attempting to seek protection in
Tajikistan.
APPEALS TO:
A. SATTAR
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Constitution Avenue
Islamabad
PAKISTAN
Telegram:Foreign Minister, Islamabad, Pakistan
Fax: + 92 51 9207217 (It is often very difficult to send faxes to Pakistan,
and may take several attempts)
Salutation:Dear Minister
Imamali Sharipovich RAKHMONOV
President of the Republic of Tajikistan
Respublika Tajikistan
g. Dushanbe
pr. Rudaki 80
Apparat Prezidenta Respubliki Tajikistan
Prezidentu RAKHMONOVU I.Sh.
TAJIKISTAN
Fax: + 992 372 21 25 20 (This number is very difficult to obtain)
Salutation:Dear President Rakhmonov
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Col. Gen. Konstantin TOTSKIY
Director of the Federal Border Guard Service of the Russian Federation
Rossiyskaya Federatsiya
101000 g. Moskva
ul. Lubianka, 3
Federalnaya pogrannichnaya sluzhaba Rossiyskoy Federatsii
Direktoru TOTSKOMU K.
RUSSIAN FEDERATION
Salutation:Dear Colonel General
Hojjatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari
Minister of the Interior
Ministry of the Interior
Dr. Fatemi Avenue
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Telegrams:Interior Minister, Tehran, Iran
Salutation:Dear Minister
COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of Pakistan, Tajikistan and Iran
accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 25 December 2000.

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