The Supreme Court on Friday observed that the ongoing deportation of illegally residing Afghans from Pakistan was a matter of “constitutional interpretation,” and directed Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan to assist the bench in this regard.
Taking up a petition moved by several citizens, including a senator, former lawmaker and human rights activists, a three-member bench of the apex court comprising Justices Sardar Tariq Masood, Yahya Afridi and Ayesha A. Malik issued notices to the federal government, the foreign ministry, the AGP and the apex committee that took the expulsion decision. It then adjourned the hearing until next week.
As the proceedings commenced, former PPP senator Farhatullah Babar—one of the petitioners—maintained the interim government lacked the mandate to deport undocumented migrants, alleging some of the Afghans being expelled had applied for political asylum. “Afghan citizens are being treated inhumanely by the Government of Pakistan,” he argued, reiterating that a policy decision to this effect could only be taken by an elected government.
On the petition’s maintainability, he said the court had the jurisdiction to protect the rights of citizens.
Justice Afridi then asked which fundamental rights were being violated, with Babar saying Articles 4 (right of individuals to be dealt with in accordance with law), 9 (security of a person), 10 (right to fair trial) and 25 (equality of citizens) of the Constitution were in violation. “Should those who have been living [in Pakistan] for the past 40 years stay here? Assist the court on this,” observed Justice Masood.
Justice Malik, meanwhile, observed that Pakistan is bound by relevant U.N. conventions that protect the rights of refugees.
After announcing in October a month for undocumented migrants, primarily Afghans, to voluntarily leave Pakistan or risk arrests and deportations, the government in November launched a nationwide campaign to deport illegal foreigners. According to government estimates, roughly 1.7 million Afghans are residing in Pakistan illegally, with more than 300,000 believed to have returned home via the Torkham and Chaman border crossings over the past month.
Amidst reports of harassment, politicians and rights activists approached the Supreme Court to declare the mass deportation decision as illegal, unconstitutional and against fundamental rights. While initially returned by the registrar’s office, the matter was taken up by the apex court after Justice Afridi ordered its fixation. The plea has urged the court to bar the government from detaining, deporting, or otherwise harassing anyone who possesses a proof of residence, Afghan Citizen Card, or asylum-seeker application issued by UNHCR. It has similarly argued that any Afghans who were born in Pakistan have a claim to birthright citizenship under The Citizenship Act, 1951.
A day earlier, a separate petition was also filed challenging Afghans’ expulsion on the basis that any child born to Afghan parents in Pakistan was entitled to Pakistan’s citizenship.