On October 23, 2023, the International Center for Refugee and Migration Studies (ICRMS) convened a policy dialogue on “Promoting Refugee Legal Protection and Access to Justice in Balochistan: Addressing Barriers and Strengthening Legal Aid Services” at Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering, and Management Sciences (BUITEMS), Quetta. The session garnered the presence of distinguished individuals and stakeholders from across Pakistan, including Haider Zaman, Assistant Protection Officer, Abdul Hayee, Legal Advisor at SEHER; Abdul Mateen Khan, Advocate, Balochistan High Court, Abdul Rab Kakar, DSP Brewery Thanna; Anita Ahooja, National Officer at UNFPA; Anqa Gharshin, Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at BUITEMS; Asmatullah Mandokhail, Advocate; Dr. Arif Azad, Academic and International Development Specialist; Dr. Rahila Umar, the Director of ICRMS; Fatima Khilji, Advocate High Court and Human Rights Activist; Hafeezullah from the International Organization for Migration; Haider Zaman, Assistant Protection Officer at UNHCR; Irfan Abdul Nabi, Assistant Director AHTC at FIA; Moniza Kakar, Advocate; Qasim Ali, Advocate; Shehzad Amin, Project Manager at ICRMS; Syed Muaz Shah, Director of the Center of Human Rights, Faculty of Law; Tahira Awan; and Umar Gilani, Advocate Islamabad High Court, along with Afghan refugee students from various universities in Balochistan.
During the session, participants shed light on the current legal challenges faced by refugees in Pakistan. The dialogue concluded with all attendees proposing actionable policy recommendations to address the most pressing legal hurdles encountered by Afghan refugees in Pakistan and expressing a keen interest in cooperating to resolve these pressing issues.
- Province-level legislation related to refugee rights assisted by the Balochistan Bar Council.
- Awareness sessions should be organized for the Police officers, and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) personnel regarding the legal status and treatment of refugees according to the existing rules and status/nature of refugees or asylum seekers.
- Refugee solidarity networks to be established and refugees must lead the network to highlight their legal rights.
- The UNHCR, ICRMS, and other forums working on legal issues of refugees and asylum seekers should sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Balochistan Bar Council to develop coordination between all parties to protect refugee rights and provide necessary legal aid whenever and wherever needed.
- Civil court judges be taken on board through training sessions about the refugee and asylum laws prevailing in Pakistan and international judicial practices.
- Awareness sessions for Afghan refugees related to documentation procedures. As well as empowering Afghan refugees regarding their legal rights.
- Telephone helpline or personal contact numbers to be dedicated solely to the Afghan refugees’ legal aid. Also, all police stations should be provided with contact details of advocates dealing with refugee and asylum cases to provide legal access to the person in need.
- Organizations dealing with refugee issues should be empowered, and the relevant organizations, such as UNHCR, IOM, Sahar, etc., should be granted access to refugees who are to be repatriated to ensure their legal status in Pakistan and to determine the nature of repatriation.
- The government should extend the repatriation deadline for refugees and provide temporary documentation.
- Refugee voices must be heard while formulating national-level refugee policies and legislation.
- The narrative is to be changed through mass media that was generated years back. And introduce the Afghan refugee generations that are born in Pakistan and do not know any homeland other than Pakistan.
- Most vulnerable to the current state policy should be identified and they should be mainstreamed through defined SOPs.
- While making arrests, refugees should be treated humanely, no refugee should be subjected to violence or treated as a criminal.
- Refugees should be facilitated with their driving license and vehicle documentation to avoid traffic rule violations.
- Take religious Ulama on board for refugee matters to shape the state policies.