Afghan Refugees in Pakistan Expelled: International Action Needed


René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

16 Nov 2023 – For reasons, no doubt, related to domestic politics and political-economic unrest, the authorities of Pakistan are proposing to expel the majority of refugees from Afghanistan back to Afghanistan where they face grave danger.  International efforts need to be made so that Pakistan upholds international refugee standards as some expulsions seem to have already started.

There are some two million Afghan refugees who lack refugee status in Pakistan who may be expelled.  It is difficult to know from outside how much religious issues are involved.  Within Afghanistan under Taliban rule, Christians, Sikhs, Shi’a Muslims and Ahmadiyya Muslims cannot freely practice their religious beliefs.  Many of the refugees in Pakistan from Afghanistan belong to the Hazara Shi’a minority.

The Association of World Citizens is strongly concerned by repression against the Hazara in Afghanistan which led them to seek refuge in Pakistan.  The Hazara are largely Shi’a in religion but are considered as non-Muslim infidels or as heretics by the Taliban.  There are some three million Hazara whose home area is the central mountainous core of Afghanistan, but a good number have migrated to Kabul, most holding unskilled labor positions in the city.

In the past, there was a genocidal period against the Hazara under the rule of Abdur Rahman Khan.  During the 1891-1893 period, it is estimated that 60 percent of the Hazara were killed, and many others put into slavery-like conditions.  At the time, the Hazara were not yet Muslims but practiced age-old Central Asian religious practices.  After the killings, the remaining Hazara converted or were converted into Shi’a Muslims.

In the recent past, under Taliban rule (1996-2001) there was systematic discrimination against the Hazara and a number of massacres. Thus, there is a reasonable fear that the discrimination could lead to genocide.  As then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in an address to UNESCO on 8 December 1998:

“Many thought, no doubt, that the horrors of the Second World War – the camps, the cruelty, the exterminations, the Holocaust – could not happen again.  And yet they have: in Cambodia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Rwanda.  Our time – this decade even – has shown us that man’s capacity for evil knows no limits.  Genocide – the destruction of an entire people on the basis of ethnic or national origins – is now a word of our time also – a start and haunting reminder of why our vigilance must be eternal.”

The criteria for mass killings to be considered genocide does not depend on the number of people killed or the percentage of the group destroyed but on the possibility of the destruction of the identity of a group.  Thus, it is the identity of the Hazara that is the key issue.  The 1948 Convention against Genocide has an action article, Article VIII:

“Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide…” 

Despite evidence of mass killings, some with the intent to destroy “in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” no Contracting Party has ever called for any action under Article VIII.

Today, non-governmental organizations need to express their concern to the Pakistan government and watch events closely in Afghanistan.


René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Nov 2023.

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