Pakistani family deported despite Taliban fears

10:18 am on 23 December 2015

A mother and son who fled Pakistan because they feared the Taliban would kill them have been sent back there by a New Zealand tribunal.

Pakistani security officials inspect a military police jeep following an attack by gunmen in Karachi on 1 December 2015.

Security officials inspect a police jeep following an attack by gunmen in Karachi on 1 December. Photo: AFP

The Immigration and Protection Tribunal agreed their lives were at risk if they returned to their home district of Swabi, but told them if they relocated to the southern city of Karachi they would be safe.

In a newly released decision, it rejected their appeal to remain in New Zealand as refugees.

The mother and her 19-year-old son, who have not been named, fled to New Zealand on visitor visas in June last year, fearing the Taliban would persecute the woman because of her volunteer work as a polio vaccinator.

She stopped doing the work when her cousin and six other medics were killed in a terrorist attack on a motorway on New Year's Day in 2013.

The Islamist group has killed dozens of vaccinators since it became known American intelligence agents used a fake vaccine programme to try to find the fugitive Osama Bin Laden.

It believes vaccinators try to poison people and many still refuse polio vaccinations.

While living in Pakistan, the family in some ways lived a life of luxury. The father was a successful businessman who had bought a significant amount of property in a modest village.

That sparked jealousy, the family told the tribunal.

Risk of serious harm

In November 2013, the son was abducted by four Taliban militants in a van while walking home from a cricket game and held for nine days, until his father paid a ransom.

Before coming, the family received a letter on Taliban letterhead demanding money.

They also suffered other unfortunate circumstances before fleeing.

The boy had graduated from high school and hoped to go to college, but was quickly put off the idea.

"There had been a recent bomb blast caused by the Taliban at the college he intended to attend, and the Taliban were known to kidnap students in the area," the tribunal said.

He was described by the tribunal as mature and a good communicator - skills which ultimately worked against him as it said he would find it easy to resettle anywhere.

A Pakistani soldier in the army-run school in Peshawar where 141 people were killed by Taliban militants.

A Pakistani soldier in an army-run school in Peshawar, where about 140 people were killed by Taliban militants in December 2014. Photo: AFP

The mother also said members of her own family have connections to the Taliban and had threatened to kill them.

This was the only part of her evidence which was doubted by the tribunal.

The tribunal agreed there was a "risk of serious harm" to the family if they went home, but it said if they relocated to the southern city of Karachi, there would be authorities there that could protect them.

"If meaningful protection is available to claimant in a part of the country other than the part in which serious harm is threatened, then the risk of the claimant being persecuted is not established," it said.

'Who will support them there?'

However, Greater Wellington Pakistan Association head Zia Khan said this was not the case.

"There is no arrangement for any organisation to protect such people so if it's suggested they go to Karachi, who is going to protect them? Who will support them there?" he said.

"It is a city that is already in turmoil. Someone must look into her application because Karachi doesn't offer security or safety to anyone - they are taking action against all sorts of criminals, whether they're Taliban or not."

The mother said they would not be able to live safely anywhere in Pakistan as the Taliban had connections everywhere. She feared she was on a list of polio vaccinators.

It was revealed the father was currently in hiding and moved between the cities of Peshawar and capital Islamabad, further north.

He has hired a guard with an AK47 to patrol the four acre family home, which is surrounded by a 2m-high wall with electric wire.

The son also said because he and her mother had lived overseas, they would be in even more danger.

The tribunal was shown four letters sent by the Taliban to the father since the mother and son fled, threatening the family with violence and extortion.

But after also losing an additional appeal on humanitarian grounds, they have exhausted all avenues of appeal.

The Pakistani Civil Society light candles at a vigil in Karachi for the victims of last year's school attack by Taliban militants in Peshawar, on December 16, 2015.

The Pakistani Civil Society lights candles at a vigil in Karachi for the victims of last year's school attack in Peshawar. Photo: AFP

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs