The U.N. refugee agency is investigating the situation of 18 Uyghur families facing deportation from Pakistan if they fail to comply with a government order expelling all illegal migrants, said two Uyghurs involved in the matter.
Pakistani officials issued the order after dozens of people were killed in two suicide bombings in late September. They said that most such bombings this year were conducted by Afghan nationals, but they decided to expel all migrants without a valid residence permit – including 1.73 million Afghan refugees – if they don’t leave by the start of November.
The plight of the Uyghur families, whose members total about 100 people, was first reported by Radio Free Asia earlier in October. Most are descendants of individuals who migrated decades ago from Xinjiang to Afghanistan and later to Pakistan. They lack Afghan or Chinese passports and Pakistani residence permits.
Omer Khan, founder of the Pakistan-based Omer Uyghur Trust, said on Oct. 23 that the United Nations Office for Refugees in Pakistan has contacted him twice about the Uyghurs living in Rawalpindi since RFA’s earlier report.
The Uyghurs have sought help from the office for years, but without success.
But this time, the agency collected the names, addresses, and family statuses of the Uyghurs, said Khan and a Uyghur named Abdulahed who lives in Rawalpindi.
“They mentioned that they would contact us if there are any updates, Khan said.
But now the families’ landlords are pressuring them to vacate their homes by Nov. 1 and the Uyghurs are scrambling to find other accommodations, he said. And some Uyghur parents are keeping their children home from school.
“We are uncertain about our next steps,” Khan added.
The Uyghur families fear Pakistani authorities will deport them to Afghanistan, where their safety would be at risk under current Taliban control, or to China, where Uyghurs in the far-western Xinjiang region face repression and are subjected to severe rights abuses.
The U.N. refugee agency – officially the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR – also asked some of the families if they have faced any threats from Pakistani authorities or the police, Abdulahed said.
“We communicated with the U.N. agency over the phone, but there is no news about what will happen,” he said.
“Before leaving for a third country, we hope to stay here for a while to resolve our situation,” Khan said. “The U.N. refugee agency’s letter will play a significant role in this,” Khan said, referring to a document that says the agency recognizes the Uyghurs as refugees.
The UNHCR in Pakistan did not respond to an email request for comment by RFA.
“Pakistan has a full right to prevent terrorism, but Uyghurs — these are the people fleeing from terrorism and finding some refuge in Pakistan,” said Abdul Malik Mujahid, president of Justice for All, a U.S.-based Islamic organization. “Pakistan needs to welcome them.”
Louisa Greve, director of global advocacy for the Uyghur Human Rights Project in Washington, D.C., expressed deep concern about the Uyghurs in Pakistan.
“No government anywhere in the world should refoul Uyghurs,” she said. “According to international law they must not be deported against their will to a country where they will face torture, unjust imprisonment, or other serious human rights violations.”
Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.