Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tajikistan: Afghans Face Deportation

Dushanbe's decision to forcibly repatriate Afghan refugees alarms UN.
By Nargis Zakirova

The Tajik government has defied the UN by ordering Afghan refugees back home on the grounds that they have nothing to fear now that the Taleban era is over.


The move is driven by Tajikistan's severe economic problems - it is the poorest country among former Soviet republics - and the expected mass return of Tajik seasonal workers from Russia.


About 30 Afghans were arrested in Dushanbe last month and threatened with deportation before the end of the year. Five of them have already been expelled.


According to Khurshed Yunusov, an employee at the Tajikistan office of the UN High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, the remaining refugees face deportation any day now.


Tajik officials said their three-year refugee cards have now run out and cannot be renewed because the situation in Afghanistan has stabilised.


The episode follows a similar expulsion of nine Afghans in September. UNHCR said the ministry for foreign affairs said then that there would be no further deportations.


Yunusov said the government's actions contravene international conventions that Tajikistan has signed up to and said there's now serious concern over the fate of the remaining 2,500 Afghan refugees in the country.


Akhmad Safari, brother of one detained man, told IWPR they had vainly asked the authorities and the Department of Visas and Registration, OVIR, to extend their immigration permits. "They told us: Go home, the war is long over," Safari said.


The latest batch of Afghans threatened with deportation accused the authorities of unjustifiably refusing to let them stay, but failed to overturn their expulsion order in the courts.


One of them, Karim Bashir, told IWPR that his brother, with whom he sold goods at the market, had also been locked up and told to quit the country.


The majority of refugees who spoke to IWPR said that even after the fall of the Taleban they could not safely return home because the forces that have come to power are those that made them leave Afghanistan in the first place.


The Afghanistan embassy in Tajikistan expressed bewilderment. Ambassador Mukhammad Dovudi Pandsheri told IWPR that he had called on the authorities not to forcibly repatriate the refugees.


UNHCR had written to the Tajik authorities to protest over the issue. "These are all people of concern to our office who may face grave danger back in Afghanistan because of their possible association with previous Afghan regimes," the organisation said.


Afghan refugees started arriving in Tajikistan at the beginning of the 1990s when Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan and left pro-Islamic forces in power. According to the Committee of Afghan Refugees in Tajikistan, nearly 15,000 refugees lived in Tajikistan over the years, the majority of them supporters of secular power in Kabul.


The Afghans in Tajik, most of them ethnic Tajiks, consists of the cultural, scientific and political elite of Afghanistan.


They include former ministers, scientists, journalists, doctors and engineers, many of whom were educated in Moscow. The majority of these refugees were concentrated in the two major centres of the country, Dushanbe and Khujand, and most of them were employed in the wholesale and retail trades. They mainly lived in Tajikistan on visas and some of married Tajik citizens.


This is not the first time the Dushanbe government has moved against Afghan refugees. In 2000, it passed a decree prohibiting them from living in large cities, but it was never properly enforced after protests from international organisations.


Opponents of the government campaign point to the time of the Tajikistan civil war from 1992 to 1997 when about a million Tajik citizens fled to Afghanistan and faced no persecution there.


Nargiz Zakirova is a journalist with Vecherny Dushanbe