Pakistan Begins Rounding Up Undocumented Afghans For Deportation

afghan refugees in pakistan

Pakistan on November 1 began rounding up undocumented foreigners, the vast majority of them Afghans, hours ahead of the deadline for them to evacuate the country.

The country's Interior Ministry said in a statement before the midnight deadline that "a process to arrest the foreigners...for deportation" had begun, but that voluntary return would still be encouraged.

The undocumented foreigners were reportedly being transferred to transit centers.

Officials in the southwestern port city of Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and capital of Sindh Province, said that up to 40 people without proper documents had been moved to one of the transit centers.

Pakistan announced in early October that it would expel an estimated 1.7 million undocumented immigrants who remained in the country after November 1. As the deadline approached, tens of thousands of Afghans -- some who have been in Pakistan for decades -- made their way back to Afghanistan with their families and belongings.

More than 165,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan since Islamabad issued its ultimatum, officials said on November 2. Just over 129,000 have fled from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, the provincial Interior Ministry said, while a total of 38,100 have crossed through Chaman in Baluchistan, border officials there told AFP on November 2.

In the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which borders Afghanistan, officials said on November 1 that more than 100,000 Afghan nationals had returned to their homeland via the Torkham border crossing in the past two weeks.

Overall, more than 140,000 people had voluntarily left Pakistan following the government's October 3 order, according to Pakistan's Interior Ministry.

Pakistan's move to remove undocumented foreigners is seen as part of an anti-immigrant crackdown that has been criticized by human rights groups and the United Nations.

On October 31, the chair of the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Hina Jilani, wrote the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warning that Islamabad's move to expel Afghans could "trigger a humanitarian crisis."

"The decision amounts to forced repatriation, which is not recognized under international customary law, and will invariably affect vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, which include women, children, the elderly, persons living with disabilities, persons from low-income groups, and Afghans at risk because of their professions -- many of whom fled Afghanistan after the Afghan Taliban took over the government in August 2021," Jilani wrote.

Ahmad Afghan, an Afghan national who lives in Islamabad, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that he and his family left Afghanistan after the Taliban regained power in Kabul. He said his visa has since expired and he has been unable to extend it as he and his family await documents to move to a third country.

"We are very worried. We cannot go back to Afghanistan," Afghan said. "If we go back to Afghanistan, [the Taliban] will kill us -- 100 percent."

Pakistan has been a popular refuge for Afghans for decades, beginning during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation. Others fled fighting during the ensuing Afghan civil war and the Taliban's first stint in power from 1996 to 2001. Millions of Afghans returned to their homeland following the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban from power.

Some 3.7 million Afghans fleeing war, poverty, and political upheaval in their homeland currently reside in Pakistan, according to the United Nations, with Islamabad putting the number as high as 4.4 million.

Officials in Islamabad have said that about 1.4 million Afghans possess documents allowing them to legally stay in Pakistan and that the order for undocumented immigrants to leave affects 1.7 million people.

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban has previously criticized the move to remove undocumented Afghans from Pakistan, saying they are being punished for tensions between Kabul and Islamabad.

On November 1, the Taliban called on the Pakistani government to give undocumented Afghans more time to leave as large numbers of evacuees created bottlenecks at the Pakistan-Afghan border.

While thanking Pakistan and other countries that have harbored Afghans over years of conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban asked Islamabad "to not forcibly deport Afghans with little notice, but give them time to prepare."

Mohammad Zaman, an Afghan national who spoke to Radio Azadi at the Torkham border crossing on November 1, said the large group his family traveled with struggled to prepare for the evacuation.

"More than 30 families came with us. They are people who had left their country due to poverty. They are people who could not find a loaf of bread, so they left the country and came [to Pakistan]," Zaman said. "Instead of supporting us, Pakistan gave us a very short deadline. The deadline was so short that we couldn't even wrap up our businesses."

An Afghan national who spoke to Radio Azadi on condition of anonymity following his arrival in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar Province expressed hope that he and his children would be treated fairly by the Taliban.

"I swear by God, I have neither a place to live in nor a piece of land," the man said, adding that he and his family had moved to Pakistan in search of work. "I ask the Taliban to provide us with shelter, at least a tent to live in.... Here, we may die of hunger."

On November 1, Afghanistan's state news agency, Bakhtar, which is under Taliban control, said the Taliban government had dedicated 2 billion Afghanis (about $27 million) to provide returnees "with basic needs."

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