Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement and for uninhibited foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government provided temporary legal status to approximately 1.4 million Afghans formally registered and holding proof of registration (PoR) cards. In February the federal cabinet approved: 1) the extension of PoR cards in two one-year increments, with the first increment valid through December 31; 2) the creation of specific visa categories for Afghans, such as investment, skilled and unskilled labor, student, medical, and spousal visas with a path to naturalization; 3) support for a national refugee law; and 4) the documentation of undocumented Afghans in the country. An estimated 600,000 undocumented Afghans migrants resided in the country.
There were reports of harassment and extortion of Afghan refugees by provincial authorities, police, and host communities. UNHCR reported that, from January to October, there were 3,345 arrests and detentions of refugees. All those arrested were released, 76 percent without charges, often following the intervention of UNHCR or its implementing partners. Arrests spiked in February, with the highest number of refugee arrests and detentions countrywide during any single month in the previous two years, largely due to security operations such as Radd-ul-Fasaad, initiated by the government in the wake of terrorist attacks early in the year.
Harassment of Afghan refugees decreased during the year, although individual cases of harassment persisted. Refugee accounts of harassment ranged from public protests against the presence of Afghan refugees by local communities to individual stories of harassment by law enforcement officials.
In-country Movement: Government restrictions on access to certain areas of FATA, KP, and Balochistan, often due to security concerns, hindered freedom of movement of persons. The government required an approved no-objection certificate for travel to areas of the country it designated as “sensitive.”
Foreign Travel: The law prohibits travel to Israel, and the country’s passports include a statement that they are “valid for all countries except Israel.” Passport applicants must list their religious affiliation and, if Muslims, affirm a declaration that the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement was a false prophet. Ahmadi representatives reported the word “Ahmadi” was written on their passports if they refused to sign the declaration. According to policy, government employees and students must obtain no-objection certificates from the government before traveling abroad. Authorities rarely enforced this requirement for students, however.
The government prohibited persons on an exit control list from departing the country. The stated purpose of the list was to prevent departure from the country of “persons involved in antistate activities, terrorism, or related to proscribed organizations and those placed on the orders of superior courts.” Those on the list had the right to appeal to the courts to have their names removed.
Exile: During the year the government refused the return of immigrants deported from Europe. One European mission reported several deportees were refused entry as unidentifiable Pakistani citizens, despite having passports issued by Pakistani embassies abroad. Some NGOs commented the government increased restrictions on the issuance of identity and proof of nationality documents, such as passports, from its missions abroad.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
Large population displacements continued as a result of militant activity and military operations in FATA. A total of 5.3 million residents of FATA were displaced since 2008, some of them multiple times. Of those, approximately five million had returned as of the end of October. The government and UN agencies such as UNHCR, UNICEF, and the UN World Food Program (WFP) collaborated to assist and protect those affected by conflict. Once evacuated, IDPs received immunizations, with many of the children receiving them for the first time in five years. The state and relief organizations placed special emphasis on polio, as many IDP children had been vulnerable to the disease due to the Taliban-imposed ban on immunizations in their home regions. In some areas an estimated 50 percent of the IDP population had been displaced five years or longer, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Those displaced by conflict generally resided with host families, in rented accommodations, or to a lesser extent, in camps. Several IDP populations settled in informal settlements outside of major cities, such as Lahore and Karachi.
The return of IDPs displaced by Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency, Operations Khyber I, II, III, and IV in Khyber Agency, and other military activities continued. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 329,012 families had returned to FATA and 32,469 families remained displaced as of October 31. Since 2015, 90 percent of the total IDP population had returned to FATA. As of September 27, 66 to 94 percent of IDPs had returned to their home province.
The government required humanitarian organizations assisting civilians displaced by military operations to request no-objection certificates to access all agencies in FATA. According to humanitarian agencies and NGOs, the certificate application process was cumbersome and projects faced significant delays in their start-up. The government maintained IDP camps inside and near the FATA agencies where military operations took place, despite access and security concerns raised by humanitarian agencies. Humanitarian agency workers providing assistance in the camps were exposed to danger when travelling to and within FATA. UN agencies maintained access to the camps and the affected areas mainly through local NGOs.
There were no reports of involuntary returns. Many IDPs reportedly wanted to return home, despite the lack of local infrastructure, housing, and available service delivery and the strict control that security forces maintained over returnees’ movements through extensive checkpoints. Other IDP families delayed their return or chose some family members to remain in the settled areas of KP where regular access to health care, education, and other social services were available. For IDPs who were unwilling or unable to return, the government coordinated support with the United Nations and other international organizations. The WFP distributed a monthly food ration to IDPs in KP displaced by conflict and continued to provide a six-month food ration to IDPs who returned to their areas of origin in FATA.
Despite large-scale recurring displacements of individuals due to natural disasters and disruptions caused by terrorist activities and counterterrorist operations, the government had not adopted specific legislation to tackle internal displacement problems. In addition, the National Disaster Management Act of 2010 does not provide any definition of IDPs or their rights.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: There were no reported cases matching the legal definition of refoulement.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. The country lacks a legal and regulatory framework for the management of refugees and migration. The law does not exclude asylum seekers and refugees from provisions regarding illegal entry and stay. In the absence of a national refugee legal framework, UNHCR conducted refugee status determination under its mandate, and the country generally accepted UNHCR decisions to grant refugee status and allowed asylum seekers (who were still undergoing the procedure) as well as recognized refugees to remain in the country pending identification of a durable solution.
Employment: There is no formal document allowing refugees to work legally, but there is no law prohibiting refugees from working in the country. Many refugees worked as day laborers or in informal markets, and local employers often exploited refugees in the informal labor market with low or unpaid wages. Women and children were particularly vulnerable, accepting underpaid and undesirable work.
Access to Basic Services: One-third of registered Afghans lived in one of 54 refugee villages, while the remaining two-thirds lived in host communities in rural and urban areas and sought to access basic services in those communities. Afghan refugees could avail themselves of the services of police and the courts, but some, particularly the poor, were afraid to do so. There were no reports of refugees denied access to a health facility because of their nationality.
The constitution stipulates free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of five and 16, regardless of their nationality. Any refugee registered with both UNHCR and the government-run Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees was, in theory, admitted to public education facilities after filing the proper paperwork. In practice access to schools was on a space-available basis as determined by the principal, and most registered Afghans attended private Afghan schools or schools sponsored by the international community. For older students, particularly girls in refugee villages, access to education remained difficult. Afghans who grew up in Pakistan needed student visas to attend universities, but they qualified for student visas based on their PoR cards. Afghan students were eligible to seek admission to Pakistani public and private colleges and universities.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries and did not facilitate local integration. The government does not accord Afghan refugees Pakistani citizenship.
The Ministry of States and Frontier Regions and Ministry of the Interior’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on May 11 to document unregistered Afghans in the country. The MOU established 21 documentation centers in areas with high concentrations of unregistered Afghans. Under the MOU, NADRA agreed to issue new identity cards, called Afghan citizen cards (ACCs), over a period of six months. According to UNHCR, the ACCs provided undocumented Afghans legal protection from arbitrary arrests, detention, or deportation under the Foreigner’s Act and would “allow Afghans to stay in Pakistan for the time being.” If cardholders leave the country, they relinquish their status. After the documentation period concludes at the end of January 2018, only new births to existing ACC cardholders will be recorded. Any undocumented Afghans encountered in the country after the registration period would be vulnerable to detention and deportation under the Foreigners Act.
Statelessness continued to be a problem. There is no national legislation on statelessness, and the government does not recognize the existence of stateless persons. International and national agencies estimated there were possibly thousands of stateless persons as a result of the 1947 and 1971 partitions of India and Pakistan and of Pakistan and Bangladesh, respectively. In addition, UNHCR estimated there were 300,000 Rohingya living in the country, a large percentage of whom were believed to be stateless.