Several former U.S. officials and resettlement organizations on Tuesday issued an open letter calling on Pakistan to immediately halt the expulsion of Afghans awaiting U.S. visas, stressing many of them are at great risk if they return to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Referring to themselves are individuals and organizations dedicated to Afghan relocation and resettlement, including former ambassadors, the signatories expressed “deep concern” over Pakistan’s decision to expel illegally residing foreigners after Oct. 31. “Recent changes and decisions made by the Pakistani government not only impact the lives of those Afghan nationals, but also carry broader humanitarian and national, regional, and international security implications,” they added.
Recalling Pakistan’s decades-long history as a sanctuary for millions of Afghan refugees, as well as millions more refugees from the region, the signatories stressed they were aware of the challenges this poses. However, they noted, the expulsion decision could also impact Special Immigration Visa (SIV) applicants, those with referrals to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), and Humanitarian Parole applicants, all of whom have a pending or approved pathway to legal U.S. immigration.
“These individuals include, but are not limited to, former interpreters, journalists, women leaders, and other professionals who face significant risks if returned to Afghanistan,” it said, claiming many of them were in the final stages of exhaustive vetting processes and were awaiting U.S. visa or refugee status approval. “To deport them back to an environment where their lives would be in jeopardy runs counter to humanitarian principles and international accords to which Pakistan is a signatory,” it said, stressing “at a minimum” Afghans with pending or approved immigration applications to the U.S. should be granted exemptions from the deportation orders.
The letter also expresses concern over the “unjust and frequently corrupt practices” surrounding exit permits, noting many children who had entered Pakistan without requiring visas were being prevented from leaving because of a lack of visas. “Even newborns–who were born after their family’s arrival in Pakistan–are unjustly denied exit permits because they did not possess entry visas, an illogical and unfair situation that families are incapable of resolving,” it said, adding such policies ran counter to efforts to decrease the presence of illegally residing Afghans in Pakistan.
“If the exit permit process were administered fairly or waived entirely, and Afghans who are approved to immigrate to the United States and other nations could get exit visas for their families, the international community could better help Pakistan meet its goals,” it claimed.
Due to the approaching deadline, the letter urged Pakistan to immediately halt deportation of Afghans with pending or approved visa applications for entry into the U.S. or accepted referrals into the USRAP. Additionally, it sought the streamlining of the exit permit process, and the immediate approval of International Organization for Migration’s request to establish a Resettlement Support Center in Pakistan to assist Afghans in transition and verify their eligibility for resettlement.
“We urge you to consider that the deportation of these vulnerable individuals contravenes international obligations surrounding the humane treatment of refugees and asylees including the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Pakistan is a signatory,” it said. The expulsions, it continued, would be inconsistent with Pakistan’s humanitarian tradition and “would certainly” adversely impact Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. and could cause lasting damage to Pakistan’s reputation in the international community.
“Time is of the essence, lives are at stake, and the international community is watching. We strongly urge you to act promptly and compassionately,” it said, adding the signatories were ready to sit with the government to strengthen cooperation in this regard.
Of the 1.73 million Afghans believed to be residing in Pakistan without legal documents, roughly 20,000 fled Afghanistan following the Taliban’s return to power in 2021. Many of them have been awaiting approval to resettle in the U.S. for the past two years.
While Pakistan has repeatedly stressed this decision would not be reversed, it has previously indicated the deportation process would be orderly and conducted in phases, and could begin with people with criminal records.