MSF says ‘deeply concerned’ for Afghans as Pakistan prepares for second round of deportations

MSF says ‘deeply concerned’ for Afghans as Pakistan prepares for second round of deportations
This photograph taken on January 9, 2024 shows Afghan burqa-clad women and children refugees deported from Pakistan, in a counselling room at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camp on the outskirts of Kabul. (AFP/File)
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Updated 17 April 2024
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MSF says ‘deeply concerned’ for Afghans as Pakistan prepares for second round of deportations

MSF says ‘deeply concerned’ for Afghans as Pakistan prepares for second round of deportations
  • Pakistan had announced it would start expelling Afghans with state-issued citizen cards after Eid Al-Fitr 
  • Pakistan has already expelled around half a million ‘undocumented’ Afghan refugees since last November

ISLAMABAD: The international charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said this week it was “deeply concerned” as Pakistani authorities prepare for phase two of a ‘repatriation plan’ that has mostly targeted Afghans in the country since it was launched late last year.

Last month, the Pakistan government said it had started mapping Afghan nationals with Pakistan-issued citizen cards for deportation as part of phase two of its expulsion drive in which around half a million so-called undocumented Afghan refugees have already been expelled since November. The new campaign will mainly target 800,000 refugees who hold Pakistan-issued Afghan citizenship cards (ACCs).

“In the wake of the recent announcement by the Pakistani authorities that ‘Phase Two’ of the ‘repatriation plan’ of Afghans in the country will begin after Eid (15 April), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is deeply concerned for the rights and welfare of those impacted by the latest round of deportations,” the charity said in a statement. 

“Many Afghans living in Pakistan have been there for decades and have spent more time in the country than their country of origin, without any legal recourse to remain in the only place they can effectively call ‘home,’” MSF added.

“For many Afghans, this ‘repatriation’ means packing up their belongings and carrying them on a horse, cart, car and bus and traveling en masse to a country that is already struggling with widespread poverty, inadequate health services and increased restrictions on women.”

In October 2023, Pakistan announced phase one of the ‘Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan’ with a 30-day deadline for “undocumented” Afghan refugees to leave the country or be subject to deportation, putting 1.4 million refugees at risk.

In phase two of the ‘repatriation plan,’ Pakistan-issued ACC holders will be expelled from the country after the Eid Al-Fitr festival, a major Muslim holiday that fell on April 10. Phase three is expected to result in the deportation of UNHCR-issued Proof of Registration (PoR) card holders.

Until November last year, before it began the deportation drive, Pakistan was home to over 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees, about 1.7 million of whom were undocumented, according to the government. Afghans make up the largest portion of migrants, many of whom came after the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021, but a large number have been present since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The expulsion drive started after a spike in suicide bombings last year which the Pakistan government — without providing evidence — said mostly involved Afghans. Islamabad has also blamed them for smuggling and other militant violence and crime.

At the time, cash-strapped Pakistan, navigating record inflation and a tough International Monetary Fund bailout program, also said undocumented migrants had drained its resources for decades.

Despite the challenges facing migrants, Pakistan is the only home many of them know and a sanctuary from the economic deprivation and extreme social conservatism that Afghanistan is grappling with.

While hundreds of thousands have left Pakistan since the expiry of a November 1, 2023 deadline, the South Asian country still hosts around 1.35 million registered Afghan refugees, with an additional 803,200 possessing ACCs, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
 


Pakistan PM says ‘deeply concerned’ about Israeli strikes on Rafah, deplores violation of international law

Pakistan PM says ‘deeply concerned’ about Israeli strikes on Rafah, deplores violation of international law
Updated 9 sec ago
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Pakistan PM says ‘deeply concerned’ about Israeli strikes on Rafah, deplores violation of international law

Pakistan PM says ‘deeply concerned’ about Israeli strikes on Rafah, deplores violation of international law
  • Israeli tanks reached the center of Rafah for the first time on Tuesday, three weeks into an operation that has sparked global condemnation
  • Shehbaz Sharif says Pakistan strongly condemns Israel’s bombardment of Rafah, urges international community, particularly UN, to play role

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Tuesday he was “deeply concerned” about Israeli strikes on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, deploring repeated violations of the international law by the Jewish state.

Israeli tanks reached the center of Rafah for the first time on Tuesday, witnesses said, three weeks into a ground operation in the southern Gaza city that has sparked global condemnation.

Overnight, Israeli forces pounded the city with airstrikes and tank fire, pressing their offensive despite an international outcry over an attack on Sunday that sparked a blaze in a tent camp, killing at least 45 Palestinians.

Sunday’s attack on the Rafah refugee camp came two days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population had sought shelter before Israel’s incursion earlier this month.

“Deeply concerned by the disturbing developments in Rafah. Pakistan strongly condemns Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment that has led to heavy casualties,” PM Sharif said on X.

“It is deplorable that international law is being repeatedly violated, despite ICJ’s recent clear verdict against Israel.”

The case against Israel was initiated by South Africa in December 2023, where it labeled Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip as “genocidal,” asserting that they intended to destroy the Palestinian people in ways specified under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and calls for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.

In recent months, the South Asian country has repeatedly raised the issue of Israel’s war on Gaza, launched last October, at the United Nations through its permanent representative, Ambassador Munir Akram.

“The international community, particularly the UN, must play its part in protecting civilians from such brutal aggression,” PM Sharif said in his statement on X.

The war on Gaza broke out after Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, which killed more than 1,100 people, in response to the deteriorating condition of Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.

Israel launched a retaliatory offensive, widely viewed as disproportionate, in which more than 35,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have lost their lives, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.


Pakistan PM calls for minimizing load shedding amid heatwave, urges steps against power theft

Pakistan PM calls for minimizing load shedding amid heatwave, urges steps against power theft
Updated 42 min 14 sec ago
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Pakistan PM calls for minimizing load shedding amid heatwave, urges steps against power theft

Pakistan PM calls for minimizing load shedding amid heatwave, urges steps against power theft
  • Power outages are not uncommon in Pakistan during the summer months when the demand on the national grid spikes sharply
  • Pakistan’s power sector has also been plagued by high rates of power theft and distribution losses, leading to huge debts

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday urged authorities to minimize load shedding in Pakistan amid an ongoing heatwave and to take steps against power theft in the country, his office said.

The directives were issued during a meeting Sharif presided over in Islamabad to review the supply of electricity, load management and measures against power theft in parts of the country.

Power outages are not uncommon in Pakistan during the summer months when the demand on the national grid spikes sharply due to the widespread use of air conditioners and desert coolers.

These seasonal surges often lead to prolonged power outages, which fuel public discontent, particularly during the intense heatwaves that have swept across Pakistan in recent years.

“The situation of [power] load management in extreme heat should be improved, keeping the convenience of the public in view,” Sharif was quoted as saying by his office.

“Provincial governments and law enforcement agencies should fully support the anti-electricity theft campaign.”

The South Asian nation’s power sector has been plagued by high rates of power theft and distribution losses, resulting in accumulating debts across the production chain — a concern also raised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during recent bailout talks.

The government of PM Sharif has recently launched a campaign to curb power theft in the country to avoid huge financial losses.

The prime minister said he would personally review progress on the drive against power theft, urging authorities to ensure that consumers were not charged excessive bills.

“The national interest and the development and prosperity of the country require that all the government institutions perform their responsibilities effectively against electricity theft,” he added.


Climate change caused 26 extra days of extreme heat in last year — report

Climate change caused 26 extra days of extreme heat in last year — report
Updated 28 May 2024
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Climate change caused 26 extra days of extreme heat in last year — report

Climate change caused 26 extra days of extreme heat in last year — report
  • In total, 76 extreme heatwaves were registered in 90 countries on every continent except Antarctica
  • Already this year, extreme heatwaves have afflicted swathes of the globe from Mexico to Pakistan

PARIS: The world experienced an average of 26 more days of extreme heat over the last 12 months that would probably not have occurred without climate change, a report said on Tuesday.

Heat is the leading cause of climate-related death and the report further points to the role of global warming in increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather around the world.

For this study, scientists used the years 1991 to 2020 to determine what temperatures counted as within the top 10 percent for each country over that period.

Next, they looked at the 12 months to May 15, 2024, to establish how many days over that period experienced temperatures within — or beyond — the previous range.

Then, using peer-reviewed methods, they examined the influence of climate change on each of these excessively hot days.

They concluded that “human-caused climate change added — on average, across all places in the world — 26 more days of extreme heat than there would have been without it.”

The report was published by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center, the World Weather Attribution scientific network and the nonprofit research organization Climate Central.

2023 was the hottest year on record, according to the European Union’s climate monitor, Copernicus.

Already this year, extreme heatwaves have afflicted swathes of the globe from Mexico to Pakistan.

The report said that in the last 12 months some 6.3 billion people — roughly 80 percent of the global population — experienced at least 31 days of what is classed as extreme heat.

In total, 76 extreme heatwaves were registered in 90 different countries on every continent except Antarctica.

Five of the most affected nations were in Latin America.

The report said that without the influence of climate change, Suriname would have recorded an estimated 24 extreme heat days instead of 182; Ecuador 10 not 180; Guyana 33 not 174, El Salvador 15 not 163; and Panama 12 not 149.

“(Extreme heat) is known to have killed tens of thousands of people over the last 12 months but the real number is likely in the hundreds of thousands or even millions,” the Red Cross said in a statement.

“Flooding and hurricanes may capture the headlines but the impacts of extreme heat are equally deadly,” said Jagan Chapagain, secretary general of the International Federation of the Red Cross.


‘Welcome development,’ says Pakistan as Spain, Norway, Ireland to recognize Palestinian state today

‘Welcome development,’ says Pakistan as Spain, Norway, Ireland to recognize Palestinian state today
Updated 28 May 2024
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‘Welcome development,’ says Pakistan as Spain, Norway, Ireland to recognize Palestinian state today

‘Welcome development,’ says Pakistan as Spain, Norway, Ireland to recognize Palestinian state today
  • Three European states have said they will formally recognize Palestinian state from May 28
  • This followed recognitions by Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday congratulated Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez for pushing ahead with a decision to recognize a Palestinian state from today, Tuesday, as the European nation joins Ireland and Norway in implementing last week’s announcement.

The prime ministers of Spain, Ireland and Norway made the announcement on Wednesday, following recent recognitions by Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. The additions have brought the total number of countries recognizing the Palestinian state to nearly 150.

“The recognition of the reality of Palestine by a country like Spain is a positive and welcome development on the international scene,” Sharif said in a statement released by his office.

“Honorable [Spanish PM] Pedro Sanchez and the people of Spain have rejected the ongoing historical oppression and usurpation ambitions of Israel on innocent Palestinians with this decision.”

By joining more than 140 of the 193 member-states of the United Nations that recognize a Palestinian state, Madrid, Dublin and Oslo have said they sought to accelerate efforts to secure a ceasefire in Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

“This is a historic decision that has a single objective: that Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace,” Sanchez said in a televised address before a cabinet meeting that will formally approve the measure.

Spain will recognize a unified Palestinian state, including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, under the Palestinian National Authority with East Jerusalem as its capital, he said.

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under Israeli military occupation, has welcomed the decision.

Sanchez said Madrid will not recognize any changes to pre-1967 borders unless agreed to by both parties.

“It’s the only way of advancing toward what everyone recognizes as the only possible solution to achieve a peaceful future, one of a Palestinian state that lives side by side with the Israeli state in peace and security,” he added.

Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said last week it would upgrade its representative office in Ramallah in the West Bank to an embassy and appoint an ambassador and upgrade the status of the Palestinian mission in Ireland to an embassy.

The three countries say they hope their decision will spur other European Union countries to follow suit.

Israel has repeatedly condemned the move, insisting that it bolsters Hamas, which staged the Oct. 7 attack on Israel from its Gaza base.

“Sanchez, when you... recognize a Palestinian state, you are complicit in incitement to genocide against the Jewish people and in war crimes,” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on X on Tuesday.

The Palestinian flag was flying outside the Irish parliament as the government was set to approve the recognition in a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning.

“The people of Ireland know that a two-state solution is the only way to bring peace and stability to people in Israel, and to people in Palestine,” Prime Minister Simon Harris told journalists before the cabinet meeting.

-With inputs from Reuters


Journalist with Pakistan’s ARY News ‘taken’ by officers, whereabouts unknown — family 

Journalist with Pakistan’s ARY News ‘taken’ by officers, whereabouts unknown — family 
Updated 28 May 2024
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Journalist with Pakistan’s ARY News ‘taken’ by officers, whereabouts unknown — family 

Journalist with Pakistan’s ARY News ‘taken’ by officers, whereabouts unknown — family 
  • Journalist Hafiz Maaz Bin Khalid works as a Digital Media Coordinator for ARY News
  • Video shows police taking Khalid from his house in a police van early Tuesday morning 

KARACHI: The father of a journalist from one of Pakistan’s top television news networks said on Tuesday he was picked up from his home in Karachi city by plain-clothes and uniformed officials and his whereabouts were unknown while the family feared for his safety.

The journalist, Hafiz Maaz Bin Khalid, works as a Digital Media Coordinator for ARY News. A video shared with media by the family showed officers taking Khalid away in a police van from Karachi’s Buffer Zone area early on Tuesday morning. 

“They arrived in three mobile vans and a double cabin, climbed over the wall, and took my son with them, claiming they were taking him for investigation to the Crime Investigation Agency center,” Khalil Ur Rehman, the journalist’s father, told Arab News, adding that officers, who were both in police uniform and plain clothes, did not produce warrants when asked. 

“They took him along with his national identity card and mobile phone. When I went to the CIA center, I was told my son was not brought there. I am unaware of his whereabouts,” the father added.

“They had informed us that they were taking Maaz for questioning for an hour. Almost ten hours have passed, but we are still unaware.”

Senior Superintendent of Police Zeeshan Siddiqui told Arab News police had not arrested the journalist and declined further comment. Neither police nor family commented on why Khalid might have been arrested but two of his colleagues at ARY who declined to be named said they believed it was over recent social media posts critical of the army and police.

Journalists in Pakistan are increasingly reporting on growing media censorship, with many blaming Pakistan’s powerful military for putting pressure on critical voices. The military and the government deny they suppress the press. 

In a report released on May 3 to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, the International Federation of Journalists watchdog said more than 300 people associated with the information industry in Pakistan had faced repressive state tactics designed to quell dissent during the course of about a year.

“Over 300 journalists and bloggers this year were affected by state coercion and targeted, including dozens of journalists arrested for durations between several hours to four weeks and nearly 60 served legal notices or summons for their journalism work or personal dissent online,” the IFJ Pakistan country report for 2023-2024 said. “At least eight were charged for alleged sedition, terrorism and incitement to violence – all serious charges carrying lengthy sentences and even the death penalty.”

The report also said four journalists were killed during the period under review while at least 59 journalists and bloggers were charged with sedition, terrorism, incitement to violence, defamation or contempt.