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Afghanistan: UN agency alarm over forced refugee returns from Tajikistan

Kabul: UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is raising grave concerns over the continued detention and deportations of Afghan refugees in Tajikistan, warning once again that forcing people fleeing persecution back to their country against their will is illegal and puts lives at risk.
In a latest incident, some five Afghans, including a family comprising of three children and their mother, were returned to Afghanistan on Tuesday through the Panji Poyon border checkpoint in southern Tajikistan despite UNHCR's interventions to halt the deportations.

"Tajikistan must stop detaining and deporting refugees, an action that clearly puts lives at risk," said Elizabeth Tan, UNHCR's Director of International Protection. "Forced return of refugees is against the law and runs contrary to the principle of non-refoulement, a cornerstone of international refugee law."

Since 2021, UNHCR has recorded multiple incidents of refugee detentions, forced returns and non-admission to the territory for individuals in need of international protection.

A UNHCR global non-return advisory for Afghanistan issued in August 2021 and renewed in February 2022, calls for a bar on forced returns of all Afghan nationals.

Afghans seeking safety must have access to protection and a fair and efficient asylum process in Tajikistan. Forced returns will place asylum-seekers at risk of persecution upon return and accordingly, constitute a serious breach of international law.

"We have continuously urged the authorities in Tajikistan to allow access to territory for those fleeing conflict and persecution in Afghanistan and halt any further deportations," UNHCR's Elizabeth Tan added.

UNHCR, in the statement, said that it remains concerned about the risk of human rights violations against civilians in Afghanistan, including in respect of women and girls.
This concern comes as half of Afghanistan's population experiences acute hunger. Some 3.5 million people are displaced due to conflict, and many children are out of school.
The health care system is collapsing, fundamental rights of women and girls are under threat, farmers and herders are struggling amidst the climate crisis, and the economy is in free fall.
The conflict has subsided, but violence, fear, and deprivation continue to send Afghans across borders, particularly in Iran and Pakistan. Afghanistan is experiencing a humanitarian and displacement crisis, the UN agency said.
More than 800,000 Afghans were newly displaced inside the country in 2021, 80 per cent of whom are women and children. This comes on top of recurrent natural disasters including drought and earthquake damage and the COVID-19 pandemic with its far-reaching health impacts and socio-economic repercussions.
Afghans already constitute one of the largest refugee populations worldwide. Some three-quarters of Afghan refugees are hosted in Iran and Pakistan, with more than 2.2 million registered refugees in the two countries.
Afghanistan's children are growing up amid this crisis. Some 65 per cent of the Afghan people are children and youth, anxious about their future in the face of insecurity and economic challenges. (ANI)

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