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.
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.