Expressing concern about the risk of human rights violations against civilians, including women and girls, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called on States to suspend forcible return of nationals and former habitual residents of Afghanistan, including those who have had their asylum claims rejected.
The UNHCR said this in a Non-Return Advisory, pointing out that the situation in Afghanistan was volatile and may remain uncertain for some time to come, coupled with an unfolding humanitarian emergency in the country.
SUSPEND FORCIBLE RETURN
“The UNHCR calls on States to suspend the forcible return of nationals and former habitual residents of Afghanistan, including those who have had their asylum claims rejected. A moratorium on forced returns to Afghanistan would need to stay in place until the situation in the country has stabilized, pending an assessment of when the changed situation in the country would permit return in safety and dignity.”
“The bar on forcible return serves as a minimum standard and needs to remain in place until such time as the security, rule of law, and human rights situation in Afghanistan has significantly improved to permit a safe and dignified return of those determined not to be in need of international protection,” the UNHCR said in the advisory.
The UNHCR said that it was concerned about the risk of human rights violations against civilians in this evolving context, including women and girls, those perceived to have a current or past association with the Afghan government, international organizations or with the international military forces.
It said that more than 5,50,000 Afghans have been internally displaced as a result of conflict and insecurity since the beginning of the year. “While civilians have so far only fled sporadically in fewer numbers to countries neighbouring Afghanistan, the situation continues to evolve rapidly,” the UN Agency said.
The UN Agency pointed out unconfirmed reports that showed that tens of thousands of Afghans have crossed international borders in recent weeks.
ACCESS TO THE TERRITORY AND INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION
The UNHCR said that all countries should allow civilians fleeing Afghanistan access to their territories and to ensure respect for the principle of non-refoulement at all times as the situation remains fluid and uncertain.
Stating that the right to seek asylum is never compromised, the UNHCR sought borders to be kept open and that people in need of international protection are not consigned to areas inside their country of origin that could potentially be dangerous. “In this context, it is important to bear in mind that states have obligations, including under customary international law, to preserve cross-border access for civilians fleeing conflict and not to return forcibly refugees,” the agency said.
The UNHCR said that all claims of nationals and former habitual residents of Afghanistan seeking international protection should be processed in fair and efficient procedures in accordance with international and regional refugee law.
In view of the volatility of the situation in Afghanistan, the UNHCR said that it did not consider it appropriate to deny international protection to Afghans and former habitual residents of Afghanistan on the basis of an internal flight or relocation alternative.
In addition, to preserve the civilian character of asylum, States would need to assess the situation of arrivals carefully so as to identify armed elements and separate them from the civilian refugee population, the UNHCR said.