As Pakistan threatens to deport or jail undocumented migrants starting next month, the UN’s migration agency is warning Afghans in the country looking to emigrate that they should check in with their hotels if they plan on stepping out on errands.
UN migration agency telling migrants to check in with their hotels before leaving on errands
Raffy Boudjikanian · CBC News
As Pakistan threatens to deport or jail undocumented migrants starting next month, the United Nations’ migration agency is warning Afghans in the country looking to emigrate that they should inform their hotels of their whereabouts when they step out on errands.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) helps to settle migrants by arranging for things like food and lodging while they wait for permission to come to countries like Canada. The IOM told CBC News its workers in Pakistan are concerned about the status of Afghans in the country following Islamabad’s recent threat of mass deportations.
“[The IOM] came over to the hotels and they told us they cannot help us if [Pakistan] catches us,” said Mohammad Younas Nasimi, a former military contractor who helped the Canadian Armed Forces. He has been waiting in Islamabad for two years to find out if he and his family will be able to immigrate to Canada.
Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Department said migrants who do not possess valid documentation have until November 1 to get it. Those who fail to obtain documentation by then face deportation or jail time.
The warning was followed almost immediately by a joint statement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the IOM urging Pakistan to “continue its protection of all vulnerable Afghans.”
“The forced repatriation of Afghan nationals has the potential to result in severe human rights violations, including the separation of families and deportation of minors,” the statement added.
Pakistan has seen an influx of Afghans fleeing Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
The country estimates some 1.4 million Afghans live within its borders.
No assurances provided to Immigration Canada
This isn’t the first time Pakistan has threatened to deport or jail paperless migrants. Last year, it began posting social media and TV ads warning them to obtain visas by the end of December.
The Canadian government told CBC News at the time it had received assurances from Pakistan that Afghans already on their way here would face only fines or bans on re-entry, not deportation or imprisonment.
Asked if the government of Pakistan provided similar guarantees on this occasion, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said in an emailed statement it is “in constant communication with Pakistan.”
IRCC said it could not provide operational details or get into the substance of bilateral conversations with other countries, citing the need to protect refugees.
The IRCC said it provides its migrant clients with documents to “show the government of Pakistan that they have an application in progress.”
Nasimi showed CBC News a copy of a letter the High Commission of Canada in Pakistan issued to him in June. “The person bearing this letter and listed here under is being considered for Permanent Residence in Canada by the Immigration Section of the High Commission of Canada,” it says. The letter names him and seven family members.
“Right now, even that paper is not working,” Nasimi said. He added he showed the letter to IOM representatives in Islamabad and they told him they would be unable to protect him if the government decided to act.
CBC News spoke to another Afghan migrant in Islamabad waiting to find out if he will be able to move to Canada. CBC has agreed not to name this migrant, who still has family in Afghanistan and is in Islamabad without documents (he said he can’t afford a visa).
He said his brother was arrested by police two weeks ago when he sent him out to buy medication.
“I got money, a lot of money, and after four or five days we were able to release him back from the jail,” he said.
‘My life is threatened’
Both migrants told CBC News they’re anxious about the lack of news from Canada on the status of their immigration cases.
Immigration Canada told CBC News Nasimi is still undergoing security screening but would provide no further details. It said his spouse’s security screening has been approved.
“I have served you for so many years,” Nasimi said, addressing his words to the Canadian government. “I mean, my life is threatened because of serving you.”
The other migrant showed CBC News copies of lab results showing he and his family have completed DNA and fingerprint verification required by IRCC.
He also showed a copy of a letter from Canada’s High Commission in Islamabad telling him it is still finalizing his application.
The IOM said the UN agency is not aware of undocumented migrants in Pakistan being imprisoned or deported.
The Canadian Council for Refugees, an advocacy group, said the IRCC should process migrants’ paperwork faster.
“Canada should be doing everything it can to work diplomatically, to support that call, to urge Pakistan not to proceed with this mass deportation,” said Gauri Sreenivasan, the CCR’s co-executive director.
The IRCC said it is working in close cooperation with the IOM.
Since August 2021, roughly 39,555 Afghans have come to Canada.
The government has said it intends to settle at least 40,000 by the end of 2023.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Raffy Boudjikanian is a senior reporter with the CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He has also worked in Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal for the public broadcaster.