US trying to stop deportation of 25,000 Afghan nationals from Pakistan: Report

afghan refugees in pakistan

The US embassy has issued letters to more than 25,000 Afghan nationals under the process of relocation to and resettlement in the US and shared their names with Pakistani authorities, Pakistan-based Dawn reported, citing diplomatic and other sources.

These Afghan nationals, however, continue to face an uncertain future as Pakistan raised objections regarding the list, according to Pakistan’s senior Interior Ministry official. At present, these Afghan nationals are residing in Pakistan and await resettlement in the US.

The crisis erupted when Pakistan began detaining illegal Afghan refugees in holding centres after the November 1 deadline for their voluntary departure to Afghanistan expired, according to Dawn report. Following the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan, the US government evacuated thousands of Afghans who had worked for them and feared retribution at the hands of the Taliban.

Reportedly, these Afghan nationals also faced action amid the ongoing crackdown against illegal foreign nationals in Pakistan, prompting US officials to call on the Pakistani authorities to address the issue. The US officials believe these letters would serve as a guarantee for the concerned Afghan nationals to reside in Pakistan without fearing their arrest and deportation.

“We are in close and constant contact with the Government of Pakistan on the safety of individuals in the US pipelines. Our key concern is the safety of vulnerable and at-risk individuals,” Dawn quoted US embassy spokesperson Jonathan Lalley.

He said, “It was in both countries’ interest to ensure the safe and efficient resettlement of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers.” Lalley said that the US embassy has shared a list of Afghan nationals, who are under the process of resettlement and relocation with the Pakistani government, Dawn reported.

Afghan nationals could still face deportation as the Pakistani government has refused to attach any legal value to the letters issued by the US embassy. A senior interior ministry official said that there was no agreement or understanding between the two sides that letters to more than 25,000 individuals will have legal validity.

In addition, the official raised objections on the list and added that the list included those who were not Afghan nationals. According to officials, the list has many flaws as it only included the names of people without providing details regarding their father’s name and address.

After the objection raised by Pakistani authorities over the missing information and inclusion of non-Afghans, the US embassy has committed to providing an updated list, a ministry official said. The US Embassy spokesperson said the information was not shared due to “privacy and security reasons.”

Pakistan has also blamed the US for delaying the resettlement process during the past two years. According to ministry official, the US had ample time to process the cases of these individuals for resettlement, adding the US was again intending to “delay the matter further”.

There are indications that the process might take 18 months to two years. In the meantime, these people will continue to reside in Pakistan. Lalley said that the US government is considering all possible options to expand its refugee and immigrant visa processing capacity in Pakistan.

He also called for establishing a screening mechanism and added that a hotline has been created with information available in English, Dari and Pashto for Afghan nationals to seek help and guidance. He said, “Working together to increase our processing capacity is something we continue to actively discuss with the Government of Pakistan, including in Ambassador Blome and USAID Administrator [Samantha] Power’s conversations with Foreign Minister Jilani.”

He said that the US was working with the government “to ensure the protection of Afghan refugees, asylum seekers, and those in the US resettlement pipeline” even before Pakistani authorities announced their deportation policy. He said, “We remain committed to processing Afghans eligible for immigration to or resettlement in the United States … We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to raise these issues at all levels with the Pakistani government, in coordination with UNHCR and other like-minded countries.”

Meanwhile, more than 6,500 Afghanistan nationals left Pakistan through the Torkham border on Sunday, taking the number of repatriated Afghans to more than 174,350, Dawn reported citing border officials.

Afghan nationals started leaving Pakistan after the government gave a deadline to all unregistered foreign nationals to leave Pakistan by October 31, after which action will be taken against them as per law. Officials said 174,358 Afghan nationals have departed for Afghanistan since September 17.

According to officials, voluntary repatriation is still underway; however, the number continues to decline with each passing day.

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