Uyghur refugees in Pakistan face deportation in April

The 18 families don’t have legal residence and face restrictions in jobs and education – and now fear being sent to China.
By Gulchehra Hoja for RFA Uyghur
2024.03.27
Uyghur refugees in Pakistan face deportation in April The Omer Uyghur Trust holds an Eid event for Uyghur children in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, June 26, 2023.
Omer Uyghur Trust

About 100 Uyghur refugees in Pakistan face deportation in April, after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is over, based on a new government directive, a copy of which was obtained by Radio Free Asia.

The 18 refugee families, who have been living in Pakistan for several years, fear they will be deported to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan or China, where they may face persecution.

The Uyghurs are a tiny part of a much larger group of 1.7 million Afghan refugees in the country that the Pakistani government announced last October it would deport following a series of suicide bombings blamed on Afghan groups.

The Pakistani government decided in November 2023 to extend the stay of the Uyghurs for six months after the U.N. refugee agency intervened on their behalf.

In February, the Interior Ministry held a meeting to review the repatriation plan, which outlines three phases, starting with undocumented Afghan nationals, followed by Afghan Citizen Card holders and proof of registration holders.

The Uyghur families are registered as Afghan refugees and hold Afghan Citizen Cards, but otherwise have no passports or legal identity.

The new Pakistani directive calls for gathering information on Afghan migrants before a renewed effort to deport them after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan on April 9.

“Since they perceive us as Afghans, they intend to include us in this expulsion,” said Turghunjan Muhemmet Tursun, a 32-year-old Uyghur born in Afghanistan whose parents sought refuge in Pakistan after the Soviet-Afghan War erupted in 1979. 

“This has left us deeply distressed.”

Legal limbo

Most of the Uyghurs are descendants of individuals who migrated decades ago from Xinjiang to Afghanistan, and later fled to Pakistan because of war and other problems they encountered in Afghanistan.

Despite their long-term residence in Pakistan, the government has not granted the Uyghurs citizenship, passports or residency status. Because of this, they face restrictions in access to jobs, education for their children, and free movement inside the country. 

An official from the U.N. refugee agency’s office, or UNHCR, which is monitoring the situation, expressed hope that the new directive would not adversely affect the Uyghur families. 

“We are aware of this, but the government has not formally moved on it,” the official said in a text message, asking not to be identified.

The UNHRC official stressed a low likelihood of deportation of the Uyghurs, but neither his office nor Pakistani authorities could offer clear and reliable information regarding their fate. 

RFA could not reach the Office of Afghan Refugees at Pakistan’s Interior Ministry for comment.

Omer Khan, founder of the Pakistan-based Omer Uyghur Trust, which has been assisting the families, told RFA that Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued orders to the country’s border management and law enforcement authorities on March 23 to conduct an urgent operation to deport those holding a Afghan Citizen Cards at the end of Ramadan.

“This has caused worry among the Uyghur community,” Khan said. “Previously, the UNHCR in Pakistan told us not to worry, but now they’re not picking up the phone when we try to contact them.”

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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