Pakistan urged not to deport Afghan U.S. visa, refugee applicants

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group of former top U.S. officials and U.S. resettlement organizations on Tuesday urged Pakistan to exempt from deportation to Afghanistan thousands of Afghan applicants for special U.S. visas or refugee relocation to the United States.

Pakistan has set a Nov 1. deadline for all illegal immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of Afghans, to leave the country or face forcible expulsion.

Some 20,000 or more Afghans who fled the 2021 Taliban takeover of Afghanistan are in Pakistan awaiting the processing of their applications for U.S. Special Immigration Visas (SIVs) or resettlement in the United States as refugees.

“To deport them back to an environment where their lives would be in jeopardy runs counter to humanitarian principles and international accords” signed by Pakistan, said an open letter sent to the Pakistani embassy signed by 80 former senior U.S. officials, other individuals and U.S. resettlement groups.

They included Colin Kahl, the No. 3 Pentagon official until July, three former U.S. ambassadors to Kabul and two retired U.S. generals.

The letter was organized by #AfghanEvac, the main coalition of U.S. groups working to resettle in the United States Afghans who fear retaliation for working for the U.S. government or U.S.-linked organizations during the 20-year American war with the Taliban.

Those in Pakistan awaiting the processing of their applications for SIVs or refugee resettlement include former translators, journalists, women activists and “other professionals who face significant risks” if they return home, the letter said.

The signatories urged Pakistan to immediately halt deportations of those Afghans and “at a minimum” exempt them from detention or deportation.

Pakistan says the deportation process would be orderly and conducted in phases and could begin with people with criminal records.

Some 1.73 million Afghans in Pakistan have no legal documents, according to Islamabad, which alleged that Afghan nationals carried out 14 out of 24 suicide bombings this year.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; editing by Jonathan Oatis)