In a petition submitted under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, 13 “concerned citizens” have challenged before the Supreme Court the caretaker government’s move to deport illegally residing foreign nationals in Pakistan, particularly Afghans.
On Oct. 3, caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti announced an Oct. 31 deadline for all undocumented foreigners in Pakistan to either leave voluntarily or risk being deported and the confiscation of their assets. Claiming the move is aimed at ensuring the “safety” and security” of Pakistanis, the government has thus far rebuffed condemnations and calls for restraint from rights bodies, as well as the U.N., which have warned that forcible repatriation of Afghans risks triggering a humanitarian disaster.
In the petition moved through counsel Umer Ijaz Gilani, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Farhatullah Babar; Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed; National Democratic Movement (NDM) leader Mohsin Dawar; activists Jibran Nasir and Imaan Mazari; and others have urged the top court to invoke its suo motu powers to halt the deportation drive. Making the federation, Islamabad Capital Territory, all four provinces, United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and relevant ministries and departments parties to the case, the petition claims the drive to deport “illegal immigrants” lacks any robust mechanism to distinguish between refugees, asylum-seekers, and birthright citizens.
“This decision, attributed to the apex committee of the caretaker government, is causing a massive violation of fundamental rights of around 4.4 million persons of Afghan origin who are for the time being in Pakistan,” it states. It further argues that it has also led to a “deterioration in the citizen-state relationship of all the 240 million people living in Pakistan; once state officials get accustomed to indiscriminately shoving human beings in containers and throwing them out, there is no limit to where it will end.”
The petition further maintains the drive is a “reversal” of a 45-year-old state policy to extend hospitality to refugees, asylum-seekers, and unregistered immigrants, arguing such a strategic decision is beyond the ambit of a caretaker government. It has urged the court to bar the state from detaining, forcefully deporting, or otherwise harassing anyone who was born in Pakistan and has a claim to birthright citizenship in accordance with Section 4 of The Citizenship Act, 1951.
In a subsequent press release, the petitioners described the policy as “unconstitutional, illegal and inhumane,” adding it was not only beyond the caretakers ambit but also a violation of national and international law. “It has been observed that under the garb of expelling only those who do not possess legal documentation, those who do in fact possess PoR [Proof of Registration] cards and other relevant documentation are too being harassed, detained and expelled,” it states.
Stressing that several of the people facing deportation were born in Pakistan and only identified as Afghans on the basis of ethnicity, the petitioners have stressed that the “arbitrary policy exhibits the sheer highhandedness of a state seemingly undeterred in demonizing a people on the basis of ethnicity, and raises a grave apprehension for each citizen of Pakistan who is now left at the mercy of a state which sacrifices equality, justice and fundamental human rights at the altar of ethnicity, caste and creed.”
Describing the choice to remain silent about the repatriation of humans to “imminent misery and persecution” as a “crime,” the petitioners have urged the court to “secure the life, liberty and dignity of all asylum seekers and refugees in Pakistan and their children who are citizens of Pakistan by birth right, and take to task the State for defiling the sanctity of human life and fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution.”
The petitioner have also sought directions to the UNHCR and the global community to fulfill their duty to expedite the processing of all pending cases of asylum-seekers/refugees.