On Sunday, the Pakistani government deported a Turkish educator and his family living in Pakistan back to Turkey, despite their being registered as asylum seekers by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to media reports.
Mesut Kacmaz, his wife and two daughters were picked up from their Lahore home on September 27, allegedly by law enforcement officers. Kacmaz, a well-known educator, was the former vice president of the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges in Pakistan. The family’s UNHCR asylum seeker certificate was valid until November 24, 2017.
Since November 2016, following a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, the Pakistani government has put pressure on Turkish nationals living in Pakistan to leave. Pakistani authorities ordered the staff of the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges out of the country, implying staff had links to the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Some Pakistani media reported that the schools are linked to Gulen. The Turkish government holds what it refers to as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) responsible for the attempted coup. Thirty families associated with the schools departed, while Kacmaz’s family stayed on.
After the Kacmaz family was detained, friends petitioned the Lahore High Court to order the government to provide information regarding the family’s whereabouts. On October 6, the government’s lawyer said he was unaware of their location but assured the court that the family would not be deported as they were registered with UNHCR.
The government’s deportation of the asylum seekers not only appears to violate the high court’s order, but would violate Pakistan’s obligations under international law. While Pakistan is not a party to the United Nations refugee convention, customary international law prohibits governments from returning people to places where they risk being persecuted, tortured, or exposed to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Pakistani government has not provided any reasons for the Kacmaz family’s deportation. In keeping with its recent election to the UN Human Rights Council, the government should transparently investigate the detention and deportation of the Kacmaz family, take appropriate disciplinary or legal action against any officials responsible for violating their rights, and adopt and publicize measures to ensure that the rights of other asylum seekers and refugees in the country are fully protected.