Tajikistan has embarked on a mass deportation of Afghan refugees to their home country, putting the lie to earlier claims made by President Emomali Rahmon that he would support his ethnic kinfolk across the border.
News of this development is being shared widely on social media by relatives and friends of the people affected directly by the expulsion policy.
“Today, three of my neighbors were deported. So far there has been no information given for the reasons behind the deportation,” one typical message reads.
A Eurasianet source involved in assisting Afghan refugees has told Eurasianet that around 200 people have been expelled over a three-week period.
Organizations working with refugees have advised them to avoid leaving home unless absolutely necessary. A number of families have moved into the Afghan Embassy, which is run by determined opponents of the Taliban regime to the south, for additional safety.
At the start of the year, the Afghan Embassy in Tajikistan stated that there were around 10,000 Afghan refugees in the country. Around 4,000 of them have since secured residency rights in Canada.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radioi Ozodi, cited one deported refugee as saying he was detained by Tajik authorities during a document check. He was later taken to the border with Afghanistan and expelled, he said.
“There was no trial, nothing. We were not even allowed to ask why we were being deported,” the refugee was quoted as saying.
Independent news outlet Asia-Plus on September 2 cited the Interior Ministry as saying that the people being expelled had been found in violation of residency rules. Ministry representatives insisted, however, that only one person had been deported for that reason.
That report came several days after the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, raised its concerns.
"We are asking Tajikistan to stop detaining and deporting refugees, an action that clearly puts lives at risk," Elizabeth Tan, the UNHCR’s director of International Protection, said in a statement. "Forced return of refugees is against the law and runs contrary to the principle of non-refoulement, a cornerstone of international refugee law."
The UNHCR cited one specific incident from August 23 in which a family of five Afghans, including three children, were returned to their home country across the land border despite their interventions.
“Since 2021, UNHCR has recorded multiple incidents of refugee detentions, forced returns and non-admission to territory for individuals in need of international protection,” the organization said.
The covert expulsion policy flies in the face of repeated pledges of support for the Afghan people made by President Rahmon. The authoritarian leader has even gone so far as to criticize others for failing to adequately take stock of the allegedly widespread mistreatment of Tajik minorities in Afghanistan.
“Unfortunately, human rights organizations have remained silent about the violation of the rights of [minority] ethnic groups and the freedoms of Afghan citizens, especially women and children,” he said in a speech during a session of the UN General Assembly in September 2021.
Back home, his government dragged its feet in granting visas or residence permits to Afghans seeking haven. Now it is going a step further by kicking people out altogether.