ISLAMABAD: An international media watchdog is urging Pakistan not to deport more than 200 Afghan journalists who fled their homeland after the Taliban regained control in August 2021 as US and NATO forces withdrew following more than two decades of war.
The plea by Reporters Without Borders comes a week after Pakistan launched a crackdown on undocumented foreigners, mostly an estimated 1.7 million Afghans.
The crackdown began Nov. 1 after the expiration of a monthlong grace period for unregistered foreigners to leave voluntarily. Nearly 270,000 Afghans have returned home to avoid arrest and forced expulsion. They included some people who had lived in Pakistan for up to four decades.
Some said they never registered with the UN refugee agency because Pakistani authorities were hospitable, and they didn’t imagine that they would be told to leave at short notice.
The Afghans who are still in Pakistan include about 200 journalists as well as about 25,000 Afghans waiting for relocation to the United States under a special refugee program. Under US rules, applicants must first relocate to a third country — in this case Pakistan — for their cases to be processed.
The US Embassy in Islamabad has issued letters to such applicants to protect them from deportation, but Pakistani authorities say they have no legal value.
Reporters Without Borders said in a statement Monday that some Afghan journalists in Pakistan “have been subjected to harassment and extortion by Pakistani police officers, arbitrary arrest, pressure on landlords to expel Afghan tenants, and never-ending visa application procedures.”
It said some had published sensitive information in Afghanistan and sought refuge in Pakistan for safety.
“Deporting them back to Afghanistan would clearly expose them to great danger. We call on the Pakistani government to refrain from arresting any of them and to guarantee their protection and security in Pakistan,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Pakistani authorities said they would not expel any Afghan journalists facing threats at home, but that they would only consider the cases of “genuine working journalists.”
Many Afghan journalists lost their jobs after the Taliban takeover. Female journalists face additional hardships at home because of work prohibitions and travel restrictions imposed by the Taliban.