Pakistani authorities have taken action to apprehend hundreds of undocumented Afghan refugees following the conclusion of the deadline for their departure from the country. The Islamabad government has introduced a phased plan for the expulsion of these refugees, a move that has targeted the 1.7 million Afghan nationals residing in Pakistan.
In border regions adjoining Afghanistan, specialized holding centers have been established where these undocumented Afghan nationals will be temporarily detained before being repatriated to their home country. This action has drawn sharp criticism and raised ethical concerns, with human rights activists and advocacy groups denouncing the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Afghan families who have built lives in Pakistan.
One of the affected refugees, Jamal Khan, who has spent his entire life in Pakistan and established a small business, expressed his distress at the situation. He lamented the lack of any connection to Afghanistan and the uncertainty of how the Taliban would treat him and his family. Jamal emphasized the positive relationship between Afghan refugees and the people of Pakistan, expressing the sentiment that they are not enemies but rather brothers. He questioned the government's sudden change in perspective and its decision to uproot their lives.
Many of these refugees have undertaken arduous journeys from their respective refugee camps to reach the Torkham border, often having to pay significant sums for transportation.
The Pakistan government contends that as of November 1, it has initiated a process to arrest and deport foreign nationals, although it continues to encourage voluntary returns. To date, around 140,322 individuals have left voluntarily.
Pakistan has faced international calls to reconsider its decision, with the UN, rights groups, and Western nations expressing concern. However, the government maintains that its actions are motivated by security concerns.
A crackdown on undocumented Afghan nationals is underway in various parts of Pakistan, with Karachi's police apprehending dozens of individuals and moving them to holding centers. Witnesses have reported police vehicles transporting Afghan nationals to these facilities.
Furthermore, there has been a significant exodus of Afghan nationals across the Torkham border, causing a strain on the Taliban regime in Kabul. The situation at border crossings into Afghanistan remains challenging, with long queues and waiting times, especially given that these border points close at 9 p.m. daily.
The Taliban government in Afghanistan has expressed concerns over the mistreatment and lack of facilitation for these refugees, including those with Afghan Refugee Registration cards. Many have complained that police officials forced them to leave their homes, even confiscating their legal documents.
Rights organizations have strongly condemned Pakistan's decision to expel 1.7 million Afghan nationals, deeming it unprecedented, unwarranted, and unjust. They argue that these Afghans are now facing unintended repercussions for the strained relations and growing rivalry between the Taliban and the Islamabad government.
Of the more than 4 million Afghans residing in Pakistan, the government estimates that 1.7 million are undocumented. Many of them fled Afghanistan during decades of internal conflict, with a new wave of migration following the Taliban's takeover after the US withdrawal in 2021.
Pakistan's stringent stance against undocumented Afghan residents, citing their involvement in criminal activities, has been met with skepticism by Kabul. The Taliban administration has requested countries hosting Afghan refugees to allow more time for preparation and to avoid forced deportations.
While the Taliban regime has assured the Afghan diaspora of their ability to return and live peacefully in Afghanistan, Pakistan remains steadfast in its decision to deport all illegal migrants. Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti has underscored Pakistan's commitment to repatriate individuals without proper documentation, emphasizing the government's determination to do so.
(With Agency Inputs)