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UN refugee agency lauds Pakistan's measures granting legal status to undocumented immigrants

[JURIST] The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] released a report [text] on Friday welcoming a program, almost five years in the works, to register undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan. UNHCR estimates that between 600,000 to one million undocumented Afghans, currently living in Pakistan, will be now able to receive Afghan Citizen (AC) cards. The cards will identify the holder as an Afghan Citizen, and will legally protect them from arbitrary arrests, detention or deportation under Pakistan Foreigners Order [text, PDF]. The AC cards will allow Afghans to stay in Pakistan until they can be issued documents such as passports by the Government of Afghanistan. This program is a part of Pakistan's Comprehensive Policy on the Repatriation and Management of Afghans, which was passed [UN press release] by the Pakistan Cabinet [official website]. The program was formally launched on July 20th, and UNHCR spokesperson Duniya Aslam Khan notes it to be a "significant step [that] will help regularize the stay for many Afghans at a time when return to their home country may not be possible."

As the rights of refugee and migrant populations emerged as one of the most significant humanitarian issues around the world, the relationship Pakistan has had with Afghan refugees remained tenuous. In April, the UN reported that cash incentives for Afghan refugees to leave Pakistan were still going to be provided, even though the amount of the incentives was being reduced [JURIST report]. The amount was originally slated at US $400 and then reduced to US $200; despite these cuts many refugees are continuing to register for repatriation. In February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported that Pakistan authorities have driven nearly 600,000 Afghan refugees back into Afghanistan [JURIST report] since July 2016. HRW also claimed that among those forced out of the country were 365,000 lawfully registered refugees. The use of citizenship as a method to deny or allow the influx of refugees into a country has been widely used. In June, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled unanimously that naturalized citizens may not be stripped of their citizenship status [JURIST report] based on false statements that were immaterial to becoming a citizen. In May, a Canada federal court ruled [JURIST report] that certain provisions of the Citizen Act [text] violate principles of fundamental justice under the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]; the Citizen Act was passed in 2014 and had made eligibility requirements for immigrants seeking citizenship stricter than in the past.

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