UN-organized workshop addresses legal rights of refugees in Pakistan

26 December 2003

The United Nations refugee agency has organized a two-day workshop to help Pakistan address a host of human rights issues ranging from refugees to women and children prisoners.

“Pakistan’s track record had been one of hospitality and generosity in terms of the treatment of refugees and providing them with asylum for the last two decades,” Philip Karani of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told the gathering, which opened on Wednesday.

But Mr. Karani added that without legal shelter, refugees are often arrested and detained under the Foreigners Act, and asked the judiciary to protect the human rights of those concerned.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Sheikh Riaz Ahmed, called for a new approach to deal with refugee-related court cases in a country that hosts millions of people who have fled their homes but lacks domestic legislation to adequately protect their rights.

Mr. Ahmed said the Pakistani Government has been “very supportive towards refugees,” but acknowledged that there was a gap between the country’s domestic laws and its international obligations.

Fifty judicial officers attended the event organized by the UNHCR and the Society for Human Rights and Prisoners Aid, one of the agency’s partners for legal assistance to Afghan refugees.

“The workshop hopes to initiate a thought-provoking process for a new approach to dealing with refugee cases," Jahangir Durrani, UNHCR's assistant protection officer, said. “Our aim is to sensitize members of the judiciary and to encourage them to ponder on one simple question: in the absence of domestic legislation on refugees and in the presence of the Foreigners Act, are there any other laws that could benefit refugees?”


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