World Refugee Day
ISLAMABAD, 19 June 2023: Media watchdog Freedom Network has called on the federal government and the international community, including media support groups, to extend exiled Afghan journalists suspended in limbo in Pakistan maximum support in helping them cope with rising living costs and opportunities to continue working as journalists.
The appeal was made on the eve of the World Refugee Day marked globally, including in Pakistan, on June 20 every year.
“Exiled Afghan journalists living in Pakistan are in dire need of urgent humanitarian assistance. They need to be supported to rebuild their lives shattered by collapse of the Afghan media in the wake of 15 August 2021 political change in Kabul,” Iqbal Khattak, Executive Director of Freedom Network, said.
“The irony is that these Afghan journalists are neither given refugee status nor they have means to live without support from the Pakistani government, the UNHCR and the international community. This situation must change – the exiled journalists and their families in Pakistan deserve help from all of us,” he added.
Young Afghan journalist Ahmed Naveed Kawish sold his wife’s gold ornaments to make ends meet while waiting for visa after he was interviewed early this year for resettlement in Europe. “Whatever I had was sold to make living (in exile in Pakistan) possible. With nothing more to sell, I am now worried sick for my family as no assistance is coming from any side,” he told Freedom Network.
Hundreds of Afghan journalists were forced to leave their homeland after Taliban took power in Kabul and many of them were evacuated to resettle in Europe and north America. Many others still find themselves stranded in Pakistan nearly two years after their painful exile began and where their future remains uncertain.
In the spirit of humanism and in line with Pakistan’s historical tradition of hosting refugees, for which there is rightful international recognition, Khattak urged the federal government to renew visas for these Afghan journalists and let the UN refugee agency UNHCR register them as refugees to qualify for international humanitarian assistance.
He also urged the authorities to stop arresting the exiled journalists and their family members for no fault of their own over the pretext of “expired visas” and practice grace and understanding of the desperate plights of the unwilling emigres.
In 2022, Freedom Network conducted a research study to assess needs and assistance of the Afghan journalists as they patiently awaited their fates while transiting through Pakistan. The study found an urgent need for extending humanitarian and professional assistance to these exiled Afghan journalists in Pakistan.
“We are living with harsh realities of life. We lost the country, profession and means to live. Afghan journalists living in Pakistan have been looking for humanitarian assistance,” veteran journalist Muhammad Kochai told Freedom Network.
“We have issues related to visa, work permit and finances. We need urgent attention to address these issues,” he appealed, saying that his fellow Afghan journalists were looking at an uncertain future in absence of any commitment on part on any partner.
A spokesman for the UN refuge agency told Freedom Network that UNHCR “deeply sympathizes with the anxiety and frustration among those who have sought safety in Pakistan.”
“We remain steadfast in our efforts to uphold the right to seek asylum and are in dialogue with the Government of Pakistan to identify a way forward on the registration and documentation of asylum-seekers from Afghanistan,” Qaiser Afridi said in written answers to questions from Freedom Network.
He added: “We firmly believe that with the continuous engagement and support of the Government of Pakistan the current challenges will be addressed.”
Recent media reports suggested that the Pakistani government was mobilizing resources to deport all Afghan nationals in the country without valid travel documents and some arrests of exiled journalists in the last few weeks have worried Freedom Network and other rights groups.
The UN refugee agency also expressed concerns at returning those Afghans whose visas were expired. “We urge countries neighbouring Afghanistan, including Pakistan, to continue to protect those seeking safety, as they have done for many decades,” Qaiser Afridi, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Pakistan, told Freedom Network in written answers.
“Those seeking international protection must not be returned to their country of origin where their lives or freedom would be in danger on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, or from generalized violence,” he said.
CAPTION: A group of exiled Afghan journalists meet Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific Desk chief Daniel Bastard last year in Islamabad.