Since many Afghan refugees and all of the newest arrivals to Pakistan are undocumented, seeking to ensure that assistance and protection are provided to all refugees has been an enormous challenge for UNHCR and NGOs. In addition, given that the most recent refugees are not authorized to be in Pakistan, the government has been recalcitrant in allocating land for refugee camps. Therefore, refugees arriving in the past two years, including during the U.S.-led bombing campaign, inserted themselves into already-existing refugee communities in urban Peshawar or Quetta, often residing with relatives. Other refugees lived with relatives or put up makeshift shelters in already-existing refugee camps. Refugees have to reside in very difficult sanitary and humanitarian conditions. One refugee camp visited by Human Rights Watch in Peshawar, called Tajarabat, is perched on top of a garbage dump, with open sewage flowing by refugee shelters in the camp. New Jalozai camp, with its high death rates, and insufficient shelters or space, is notorious for its hazardous living conditions.
Against the backdrop of overcrowded camps and squalor in urban environments, UNHCR and the government of Pakistan agreed on November 7, 2001, that the newest arrivals among the refugee population in both new Jalozai and in urban areas would be relocated to camps located in Pakistan's FATA.172 The first camp, called Kotkai camp was located in Bajaur Agency.173 Government officials and UNHCR soon decided that the camp in Bajaur would only be safe for Pashtun refugees because of security concerns for the other ethnic groups. Therefore, in early December camps were prepared for refugees from the Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara ethnic groups in Kurram Agency.
The relocation of refugees from new Jalozai camp to Kotkai camp in Bajaur Agency was monitored by Human Rights Watch in the first week of the program. Human Rights Watch spent three days interviewing refugees immediately after they registered for relocation in new Jalozai and two days interviewing refugees after they arrived in Kotkai camp.174
The relocation program was beneficial to the refugee population because it provided them with necessary assistance, but it also raised serious protection concerns. In addition, the way in which the relocation was implemented in its first week was contrary to the standard of voluntariness (see discussion of term, under section entitled "Relocation Compelled by Lack of Information, Official Pressure and Destitution," infra) that had been agreed to by both the government of Pakistan and UNHCR.175 Both the lack of accurate information about the new camp and any sense of alternative options called into question the voluntary nature of the relocation.
One factor that did not improve, and was in fact worsened during the first week of the relocation was the provision of supplementary feeding programs for small children. A supplementary feeding program was in place in new Jalozai camp for the most needy children, whose own mothers could not otherwise sufficiently feed them. During the first week in Kotkai camp, there was no supplementary feeding program. One refugee mother with four small infants, two of whom were twins, told Human Rights Watch, "last night my own milk was completely gone for these babies. In Peshawar I could get extra milk for them, but here I do not have that extra milk. Here [in Kotkai], they gave me biscuits for them, and I can give them those during the day. But at night they cry for milk, and I have nothing to give them."178
Insecurity in the Tribal Areas
As a result of the decision to relocate only ethnic Pashtuns to Bajaur, it was decided to relocate ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara refugees to camps located in the Kurram Agency (also in FATA) because the tribal authorities there had offered better safety guarantees.183 As with the decision to relocate only ethnic Pashtuns to Bajaur, this plan illustrates the ethnic sensitivities in FATA as well as the cautionary manner in which Pakistani authorities and UNHCR are approaching the security problems presented by the relocation exercise. Despite this caution, several international relief NGOs as of mid-November, 2001 were unwilling to work in the new camp in Bajaur Agency.184 And, on January 10, 2001, in Old Bagzai camp in Kurram Agency, Muallim Khan, an Afghan staff member of UNHCR was killed in crossfire between two tribes in a dispute over land. Two other aid workers were injured.
The situation in FATA has become increasingly tense since Northern Alliance forces, traditionally associated with the Tajik and Uzbek ethnic groups, took control throughout Afghanistan. Refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch often cited concerns that locating the camps in FATA would make them vulnerable to revenge killings or hostage-swaps by Pashtun tribal leaders in Pakistan in exchange for Pashto-speaking Pakistani prisoners of war in Afghanistan.185 Unconfirmed reports of such pressure tactics in the Pakistani press add some credence to these fears.186
Quite apart from fears of swaps for prisoners of war or revenge killings, the generalized sentiment in FATA against all non-Pashtun refugees worsened in late 2001 and early 2002. For example, the News, an Islamabad paper, reported on November 29, 2001, that the general secretary of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-I-Islam's All Tribal Shariat Movement had announced: "We warn the Northern Alliance to put an end to the inhuman attitude adopted by the anti-Taliban forces against the Pakistanis, Arabs and other foreign nationals. Otherwise, the local population in the tribal belt is already upset and will take revenge from the pro-Northern Alliance Afghans in Pakistan."187 Similar threats to non-Pashtun Afghans were issued throughout FATA, including in both Bajaur and Kurram Agencies.188 These latter announcements raise particularly serious concerns for the relocation of non-Pashtun refugees to Kurram Agency, and run counter to the previous security assurances given by tribal authorities.
While FATA is dangerous for Afghan refugees, the region is perhaps even more dangerous for expatriate U.N. and NGO staff. There have been numerous examples of anti-foreigner sentiment and violent hostility in the region. The dangers for Westerners have increased since the Northern Alliance took control in Afghanistan. Following one attack in December 2001 on a crew of German journalists, the government of Pakistan urged foreign journalists to avoid the tribal areas for their own safety.189 On November 25, 2001, a car transporting a Human Rights Watch staff member that was part of a U.N. convoy was pushed off of the road by a local truck. In early December, UNHCR staff returning to Peshawar after escorting a convoy of Afghan refugees to Kotkai camp were shot at by unknown gunmen who tried to stop their well-marked U.N. vehicles.190 The region was also a major staging ground for anti-U.S. demonstrations during the bombing campaign, as well as a recruiting and fundraising site for the Taliban forces.
Despite U.N. and governmental assurances that Pashtuns would be safe in Kotkai camp in Bajaur, refugees remained doubtful. Pashtun refugees expressed trepidation about being caught in fighting in the new location.191 Lalbibi, a Pashtun refugee woman, said, "people are afraid that fighting may come over the mountain and we will all be killed there."192 These concerns were given added weight by reports that members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda group had escaped to the tribal areas of Pakistan.193 In fact, there were nearly 200 alleged al-Qaeda members in FATA and other Pakistani prisons as of January 17, 2002.194 One particularly violent incident occurred in December 2001, when seven such prisoners accused of being followers of Osama bin Laden and eight Pakistani troops were killed during a shootout in Kurram Agency.195
The proximity to the border, and the marginal control the federal government of Pakistan has over tribal authorities in these areas, were other specific concerns cited by refugees. Mohammed Akhtar, a Pashtun refugee told Human Rights Watch:
Once they were in Kotkai camp, some refugees continued to harbor fears, including about the safety of refugee women. One refugee woman told Human Rights Watch, "We do not feel safe because different people are all around, and we do not have a door to lock, so we are afraid. [UNHCR] does not put the tents of the same family together, and if we could put them together we would feel safer.197 A twenty-one-year old refugee man called Ibrahim said, "Everybody knows that it is not safe here for women. It does not even look safe. I will try to build a wall to make it safer."198
Lack of Unbiased, Politically Neutral Information
Human Rights Watch's monitoring of the first week of registration revealed that many refugees did not have adequate or impartial information about conditions in Bajaur Agency. This was despite the fact that UNHCR ran an information campaign in the camp prior to registration and included information in radio broadcasts in local languages. It may be that information was not reaching refugees because the in-person information campaign had ended a week before the registration.199 In addition, some refugees, particularly women without male relatives located in new Jalozai, did not have access to radios in order to hear the broadcasts. Whatever the reason, the lack of information caused the relocation program to lack a genuinely voluntary character. For example, Khorma, a refugee woman, told Human Rights Watch, "We do not know anything about that new place. Only God knows what it is. The workers [UNHCR] just told us it is a good place where we can get food. But I know nothing about it. I do not know if it is a river or a mountain. They could just take us there and dump us into that river and that would be the end."200 Halagul told Human Rights Watch, "I have to go to the new camp, because I have no choice. I do not know much about the new place. I do not know how near or far it is from the border. If they would help us here, that would be better."201
Even once they were in Kotkai camp, the reaction of some refugees revealed that they were ill-informed about the location of the camp and its five hour road travel distance from Peshawar. One elderly refugee woman who was a widow said, "They have brought us so far away. I am very sad. If I knew that this place was so far away, I would not have come. There is no one to care for me here. They did not tell us anything."202
Refugees also reported receiving misleading information about whether new Jalozai camp would remain open. Relief NGOs present in new Jalozai camp203 and refugees there said they knew that the government of Pakistan wanted to clear the camp of all refugees because of a dispute between the government and the landowner. Refugees also described receiving information from UNHCR staff members that lacked impartiality. Wazirbibi, a Pashtun refugee woman, said:
Another refugee said, "They told us they would take us to a place where the Pashtuns are living. If they help us here, we are happy and we would like to stay here. But they say that the Pakistani government does not want us here [in new Jalozai]."206 A nineteen-year old Tajik girl said, "We know that Jalozai is a closed door place. The Pakistanis do not want any more refugees there, or anywhere. Where should we go? From the time I opened my eyes in this world I have known only war."207
Given the violent and competitive "survival of the fittest" tactics employed during assistance distributions in camps like new Jalozai, women-headed households in particular were unequivocal about their need to live in a place where they could access food assistance and receive tents without violence or patronage. One widow with four children said, "We will go to the new camp because [in new Jalozai] we cannot go out as women to ask for help when we need it. We need a man to do these things for us here."210 Another refugee widow with five children told Human Rights Watch, "I am going to the new camp because my children are very hungry and they have nothing to eat. I can't work, I have no choice, I must go. They told me that if I go there I will get a tent. The place I am living now is very cold, I have to go."211
Such conditions of hunger and destitution in new Jalozai were exacerbated by long delays imposed by Pakistani authorities when issuing the necessary permission to NGOs before assistance items could be delivered in the camps in the Peshawar area.212 In fact, in one case, relief NGOs were instructed that they could not distribute assistance in old camps and that all relief had to be distributed in the tribal areas. A few days later this instruction was retracted by the local authorities.213
It should be noted that the push-factors refugees experienced in new Jalozai camp were the direct result of policies by the government of Pakistan not to register new refugees, to limit assistance distributions, and to refuse to identify safe and healthy locations for new refugee camps nearer to Peshawar. In some cases, the government itself was cited as the source for seemingly biased information given to the refugees about new Jalozai camp being closed.
These findings indicate that during November, 2001, both UNHCR and the government of Pakistan failed to adhere to a standard of voluntariness that included adequate and impartial information and the absence of push factors. The failure of the relocation to be genuinely voluntary is of particular concern since a voluntary repatriation program is being planned, and is slated for implementation in March, 2002. In the context of voluntary repatriation, the standards on voluntariness are stipulated in UNHCR's 1996 Handbook, Voluntary Repatriation: International Protection ("Handbook") and in ExCom Conclusions, to which Pakistan is bound as a member state.214 The Handbook explains that refugees must have access to "unbiased," "politically neutral" information about conditions in the country of origin. A second component of voluntariness during repatriation is that "as a general rule, UNHCR should be convinced that the positive pull-factors . . .are overriding elements in the refugees' decision. . .rather than possible push-factors."215 In addition, the Handbook unequivocally states that "There must be no threat to phase down basic refugee assistance programmes in connection with registration [for repatriation]."216
If the problems identified during the relocation exercise carry over into a voluntary repatriation program, Afghan refugees may suffer serious violations of their human rights.
174 In new Jalozai camp, each day HRW conducted approximately twenty interviews in a private room, immediately after refugees met with UNHCR personnel about the relocation, and after they signed up to relocate. The refugees were asked short, non-leading questions about what information they had about the new camp before arriving in the registration area on that particular day. They were also asked what information they had just learned at the registration tables from UNHCR staff prior to signing up. In Kotkai camp refugees were asked what information they had before leaving, and what they thought about the new camp now that they had arrived. In some cases, refugees that had been interviewed immediately after registration were re-identified in Kotkai and re-interviewed.
175 It should also be noted that the standard of voluntariness is in conformity with other general principles of international human rights law, such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 13, which provides for the right of freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. However, at the same time Section 11 of the Foreigners Order allows the government of Pakistan to restrict the place of residence of foreigners, as long as an order is made in writing to this effect. See Foreigners Order, § 11.
176 The Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR) estimated that at least thirty-one people died in Jalozai camp between March and June, 2001. See M. Ilyas Khan, The Last Refuge, The Herald, June 2001, p. 83.
180 See, e.g. "Six more die in Kurram Agency Tribal Clash ," The News, May 16, 2001. See also "Four Jawans Injured In Pak-Taliban Border Clash," The News, October 11, 2001; Agence France Presse, "Call To `Jihad' Grows In Pakistan's Land Without Laws," October 29, 2001.
186 See, e.g. "Government to Help Detained Pakistanis to Return," Pakistan Press International, December 13, 2001. (stating that "10 days ago the Pashtun speaking prisoners [located in a prison near Jalalabad] were released. It is said that the Pashtun speaking Pakistani prisoners were released because Pakistani tribesmen had threatened that if they were not released they would kill the Persian speaking Afghan refugees living in Pakistani tribal areas.") (emphasis added)
188 Ibid. See also "Afghan Refugees Thrashed In Dir," the Frontier Post, December 6, 2001 (reporting on "a band of about 250 locals [who] visited the bazaar and beat and abused any Afghan seen engaged in commercial activity."); "Afghans Ethnic Strife Reaches Pakistan," The Frontier Post, December 7, 2001 (noting that "reports that rogue Uzbek and Tajik fighters from the North are targeting Pashtuns including internally displaced Pashtuns in Afghanistan have flared up tempers of Pashtuns living in refugee camps in Pakistan, a development that has serious implications for Uzbek and Tajik refugees living in Pakistan.") (emphasis added).
193 "Green Beret is First to Die From Enemy Fire," Chicago Sun-Times, January 6, 2002 (citing the Indian newspaper, The Tribune of Chandigarh, as saying that "Bin Laden was hiding out in Bajaur [Agency].").
199 One relief NGO present in new Jalozai during the information campaign told Human Rights Watch that while the benefits to the relocation were described (access to assistance) to the refugees, the security situation was poorly addressed or not addressed at all. Human Rights Watch interview with relief NGO staff member, Peshawar, November 12, 2001.
203 Human Rights Watch interview with relief NGO present in new Jalozai camp during the information campaign, November 12, 2001. In another interview with a relief NGO on November 14, 2001, a staff member told Human Rights Watch that the refugees believed "the camp will be closed. The government of Pakistan will bring bulldozers to clear the land if it needs to." Another interview with a relief NGO conducted on November 22, 2001 revealed that the Pakistani government's Commission for Afghan Refugees had indicated that Jalozai camp would be closed.
214 See ExCom Conclusion No. 18, Voluntary Repatriation, 1980; No. 22, Protection of Asylum-Seekers in Situations of Large-Scale Influx, 1981; No. 74, General Conclusion on International Protection, 1994.