ISLAMABAD (AP) — A group of former U.S. diplomats and representatives of resettlement organizations asked Pakistan not to deport thousands of Afghans who have been waiting for U.S. visas under an American program that relocates at-risk Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban rule.
The appeal in an open letter on Wednesday signed by 80 former U.S. officials, dignitaries and resettlement groups came weeks after Pakistan announced a crackdown on migrants living in the country illegally, including 1.7 million Afghans, telling them to return to their home countries by Oct. 31 to avoid mass arrest and expulsion.
Last week, the United Nations said such forced deportations of Afghans could lead to human rights violations, including the separation of families. However, Pakistan denies targeting Afghans and says the focus is on people who are in the country illegally, regardless of their nationality.
On Thursday, authorities in Pakistan said time was running out for migrants who are living in the country illegally and they must return to their countries before the end of the month.
Authorities in Pakistan insist that some of the Afghan citizens have been involved in militant attacks in the country in recent months. Pakistan has experienced a surge in attacks on security forces and public places in recent years, prompting authorities to carry out operations against insurgents.
Four soldiers and six militants were killed in two separate overnight shootouts in northwest Pakistan, the military said Thursday, It said in a statement that search operations were underway “to eliminate any terrorists found in the area” of the North and South Waziristan districts near the Afghan border.
Under U.S. rules, applicants must first relocate to a third country for their cases to be processed. The process can take up to 14 to 18 months and cases are processed through resettlement support centers.
Thousands of Afghan applicants have been waiting in Pakistan for more than two years for U.S. officials to process their visa applications. The delay in approving the visas and resettlement has left Afghan applicants in a highly vulnerable position as they contend with economic hardship and lack of access to health, education and other services in Pakistan.
In the letter sent to Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, dozens of former U.S. officials and representatives of resettlement organizations asked Pakistan to stop its plan to deport Afghans who entered the country following the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2021.
“We want Afghans to know that powerful people in the U.S. and Americans from across the nation stand with them,” said Shawn VanDiver, president and founder of #AfghanEvac, a nonprofit organization.
“We appreciate Pakistan for providing refuge to our allies following America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, but this decision would only cause chaos and make a bad situation worse. We urge Pakistan to work with us to resettle qualifying individuals in the U.S., not send them back to Afghanistan where they face certain doom,” the letter said.
It said Pakistan’s decision to deport Afghans would impact individuals, including former interpreters, journalists, women leaders and others “who face significant risks if returned to Afghanistan.”
“These deportations would not be consistent with Pakistan’s humanitarian tradition, and if pursued, would certainly adversely impact Pakistan’s relationship with the United States and could cause lasting damage to Pakistan’s reputation among the international community,” the letter added.
“Further, it is simply inhumane to treat these vulnerable neighbors in such a manner,” it said.
The letter also asks Pakistan to approve the International Organization for Migration’s request to establish a Resettlement Support Center in Pakistan to assist Afghans and verify their eligibility for resettlement.