| 13 July 2024, Saturday |

Media watchdog asks Pakistan not to deport 200 Afghan journalists in undocumented migrant crackdown

An international media watchdog is calling on Pakistan to refrain from deporting over 200 Afghan journalists who sought refuge in the country after the Taliban’s resurgence in August 2021, following the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces 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 U.N. 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 U.S. rules, applicants must first relocate to a third country — in this case Pakistan — for their cases to be processed.

The U.S. 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.

Curbs on journalists in Afghanistan have drawn criticism from international rights groups.

In May. the United Nations said intimidation, threats and attacks on Afghan journalists by the Taliban were unacceptable. During the Taliban’s previous rule in the late 1990s, they barred most television, radio and newspapers in the country.

Reporters without Borders ranks Afghanistan 152 out of 180 countries in its latest World Press Freedom Index.