Pakistan has been a gracious host to Afghan refugees for the last 40 years, giving them the freedom to hold jobs, build businesses and lives in a country they started to call home. However, Pakistan’s security situation has deteriorated steadily over the years, partly due to a porous border and the lack of the state’s control over undocumented people, and hence repatriation had become a necessity rather than a choice. This does not mean that the policy of repatriation has to be at the cost of human dignity, nor does it mean that the government should not be accountable for corruption and bribery in the process.

A report issued by the Human Rights Watch on Monday, titled, “Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity; The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees” has, as the name suggests, highlighted Pakistan’s treatment of its Afghan refugees. According to the scathing report, Pakistan evicted almost 600,000 Afghans out of the country in the second half of 2016, including almost 365,000 registered refugees. Refugees have described how a range of police abuses, including crippling extortion and arbitrary detention, as well as deportation threats drove them out of Pakistan.

The report rightly suggests that refugees must not be returned to a place where the people might come in harm’s way, and that the government must wait till it is safe for them return. However, Afghanistan and Pakistan are both victims of terrorism, and in accepting so, the refugees are in harm’s way in both countries, which calls for better cooperation between the neighbouring states.

The state could have handled the repatriation process better, and should be pushed to return the people to their homeland with dignity and respect instead of fear and intimidation. The Pakistani people sympathise with their Afghani brethren and in time, hope for their return in a legal and acceptable manner.