Pakistan is denying United Nations allegations that it is deporting Afghans from two refugee camps in the northwestern part of the country. Pakistani and U.N. officials have been interviewing thousands of recently arrived Afghans in the camps to determine their refugee status. The United Nations has suspended the screening project to protest the forced deportation.
U.N. officials say they have suspended the screening operation after confirming reports that Pakistani authorities on Tuesday took 28 Afghan families back to Afghanistan on the pretense that they were being taken to screening centers
A spokesman for the world body, Yusuf Hassan, calls Pakistan's action regrettable and incomprehensible, saying it is in breach of the agreement reached with the government to screen the Afghan refugees. "We felt that this [to be] rather unfortunate and regrettable, and have decided to temporarily suspend the screening operation until such a time we get some explanation and assurance form the government of Pakistan that during the screening exercise no deportations will take place," he said. Mr. Hassan says the U.N. refugee agency is seeking an urgent meeting with Pakistani authorities to discuss the matter.
Under the agreement, joint teams from Pakistan and the United Nations have been interviewing about 180,000 recently arrived Afghans to determine whether they want to return to Afghanistan or have legitimate claims to stay in Pakistan.
A spokesman for Pakistan's foreign ministry, Riaz Mohammad Khan, denies deporting Afghan refugees. Mr Khan told a news conference in Islamabad his country is honoring the screening agreement. "Pakistan is not throwing out any Afghan refugees who are in Jalozai camp or Shamshatoo camp," he asserted. "As regards new flows of refugees, Pakistan is not in a position to absorb any further influx of Afghan refugees. This has been made very clear. We are not in violation of any understandings."
The Pakistani spokesman pointed to Australia's refusal to accept about 400 Afghan illegal immigrants who had been rescued from an Indonesian ferry in the Indian Ocean on Sunday. "When a country the size of a continent finds it in its rights to turn back a ship carrying about 400 asylum seekers from its territorial waters," he said, "I think Pakistan's position that it is no more able to absorb further flows of refugees should be well understood."
Over the past 12 months, Pakistan has received about 180,000 Afghan refugees who have fled drought and the prolonged civil war. Most of them are settled in the make-shift Jalozai camp near the border town of Peshawar. The recent arrivals are in addition to two million Afghan refugees already living in Pakistan.
Pakistan maintains that without increased international support it is not able to accept more refugees.
The United Nations refugee agency says the deported families, including many elderly people, women, children and infants, were based in Jalozai camp in northwestern Pakistan. It says the families belong to the minority Tajik ethnic group in Afghanistan.
U.N. officials say they were able to meet with the families in eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Thursday. They say some of the people are malnourished, and a number of children are not accompanied and have family members still in camps in Pakistan.