Pakistan cracks down on Afghan migrants as deadline expires

World Thursday 02/November/2023 20:15 PM
Pakistan cracks down on Afghan migrants as deadline expires

Islamabad : Pakistani authorities on Wednesday launched a crackdown on illegal Afghan refugees as a government-set deadline for them to leave the country expired, The Express Tribune reported on Thursday.

The Pakistani government last month gave an ultimatum to all undocumented immigrants to leave Pakistan by October 31 or else risk imprisonment and deportation. It announced that action would be taken from November 1 against those illegal foreigners who had not left the country.

"A process to arrest the foreigners... for deportation has started as of November 1," the interior ministry said in a statement, adding that voluntary return would still be encouraged. Within hours of the ministry statement, authorities began detaining and transferring the undocumented foreigners to transit centres, The Express Tribune reported.

Moreover, the Interior Ministry said 140,322 people had already left voluntarily.

In Karachi, where a significant Afghan migrant and refugee population resides, Deputy Commissioner Junaid Iqbal Khan reported that up to 74 individuals have already been relocated to one of the transit centres. Among them, up to 40 had no proper documents. Witnesses observed police escorting some of these individuals in police vehicles. Inside the centre, authorities had erected tents to provide shelter for those gathered. Media were not granted access to the interior.

On Wednesday, approximately 7,000 Afghans returned to Afghanistan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Officials noted that 115 illegal Afghan residents, 64 of whom were held in Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi, and 51 in Peshawar Central Jail, were also deported through the Torkham border point, The Express Tribune reported.

Authorities on the Afghan side of the border have been overwhelmed by the scale of the exodus as they grapple with processing the returnees, some of whom are setting foot in Afghanistan for the first time in their lives. Samiullah Samoon, who oversees immigration registration at Torkham, described the situation at the crossing as "an emergency."

Many Afghan nationals were transported to the centres in rickety buses, with some of them in handcuffs. Some voiced complaints about mistreatment by the authorities. For instance, Jan Muhammad, 40, mentioned that his cousin was detained despite having all the necessary legal documents.

Of those returning voluntarily, approximately 104,000 Afghan nationals left the country via the primary Torkham border crossing in the past two weeks. "Some of them have been living in Pakistan for more than 30 years without any proof of registration," stated Nasir Khan, the area's deputy commissioner.

The number of people leaving via the Chaman border crossing in Balochistan has yet to be determined. Long lines of buses heading to the Torkham crossing were observed, with thousands of people awaiting clearance. They would likely spend the night in the open as the crossing closes at 9 pm.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa home department set a target of 12,000 Afghans leaving on Thursday. Officials indicated that National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) teams would be on duty at Torkham and Peshawar registration centers until 11 pm, The Express Tribune reported.

A similar operation was initiated in Punjab. Inspector General of Police Dr. Usman Anwar stated that police involved in evicting illegal immigrants from the province would wear body cameras to prevent human rights violations.

Officials from the Afghan Commissionerate informed The Express Tribune that the crackdown on illegal Afghan residents began on Wednesday, with those apprehended brought to holding centres in Landi Kotal. There, their information was recorded, and they were subsequently repatriated.

An efficient one-window system involving customs, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and the Afghan Commissionerate had been established to streamline the clearance and deportation process.

The Balochistan government also launched a crackdown on illegal immigrants, resulting in the detention of over 400 individuals by the police and Levies forces, most of whom were Afghan nationals. Caretaker Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai stated that the crackdown would intensify throughout the province in the coming days.

Quetta Division Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat mentioned the establishment of six holding sites in Quetta to temporarily accommodate illegal immigrants before their repatriation, aiming to facilitate their timely return.

Out of the more than 4 million Afghans residing in Pakistan, the government estimates that 1.7 million lack proper documentation. Many of these individuals fled Afghanistan during the country's decades-long internal conflict, starting in the late 1970s and continuing after the Taliban's takeover following the US withdrawal in 2021.

The decision to expel the illegal foreigners was taken after a spate of terrorism this year, out of which 14 were suicide bombings. In several cases, Afghan nationals were found involved in those attacks.

The move has drawn flak from various local and international groups as well as the Taliban-led Afghan government.