Refugee dilemma.

THE detention of nearly 1,200 Afghan nationals, including 178 children, has received much media attention and generated bad press for the Sindh government. It has also brought in its wake increasing fear for many Afghans, especially those who have taken refuge in Pakistan without visas or refugee status after the Taliban's takeover of Kabul in August 2021.

'If a person lives illegally in any country, the government takes action and deals with them according to the law,' Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said while justifying the arrests.

When the Afghans fled their country, some entered Pakistan with visas, some without. Many now require visa extensions, but since this would mean going through expensive, unregulated agents, many refrain from attempting to get their visa extended. A majority who fled initially are those who feared persecution at the hands of the Taliban.

They include army personnel, members of the judiciary, journalists, human rights defenders and those whom the Taliban despise because of their ethnicity (Hazaras), sexual orientation (LGBTQIA+) and profession (musicians and singers). Some are economic immigrants who had fled unemployment and imminent starvation.

This coming Monday will see the start of this year's first of a series of deportations of convicted Afghans, including 54 women, who, after having completed their two-month sentence, will return to Afghanistan, where an uncertain future awaits them.

Pakistan should review the influx of Afghan refugees through the lens of empathy.

Many termed these recent arrests in Karachi as nothing but a knee-jerk reaction by the government following the escalation in terrorist attacks last year, in which 282 security personnel lost their lives, 40 of them in December alone. The attacks had brought Afghanistan-Pakistan relations to a tipping point.

In a way, the media focus on the plight of the imprisoned and poor Afghans has highlighted the inadequacy of domestic instruments and mechanisms in dealing with and assisting and protecting the refugees.

There is a 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, which stops states from punishing people who enter a country illegally - apart from giving them several rights including housing, property ownership, freedom of movement, provision of identification documents, education, freedom to practise their religion and pursuing a profession. However, it has not been adopted by Pakistan so far.

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