Thousands of illegal Afghans comply with order to leave Pakistan ahead of deportation deadline

A convey of trucks carrying Afghan families drive toward a border crossing point in Torkham, Pakistan, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)
By Thomas Brooke
4 Min Read

Thousands of Afghan migrants living illegally in Pakistan rushed to the border to head home on Tuesday ahead of a Nov. 1 deadline issued by the government in Islamabad for illegal immigrants to leave Pakistan or face being arrested and expelled.

Starting Wednesday, the country will ramp up its enforcement against illegal immigration and detain anyone not in possession of valid identity documents or an up-to-date visa.

Detention centers have been erected in preparation for the mass deportation of the estimated 1.7 million Afghan migrants living illegally in the country.

The order to leave Pakistani territory was issued earlier this month after the government in Islamabad claimed that Afghan nationals had been responsible for a majority of suicide bombings conducted in the country so far this year.

“We have given them a Nov. 1 deadline,” said Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti on Oct. 3. “There are no two opinions that we are being attacked from within Afghanistan and Afghan nationals are involved in attacks on us. We have evidence.”

The government claimed that of the 24 suicide bombings recorded in the country so far this year, 14 had been carried out by Afghan terrorists. It also stated that more than a third of the 4.4 million Afghan nationals living in Pakistan are doing so without authorization.

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A significant percentage of those residing in the country are recent arrivals following the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, although many others have been living and working unlawfully in Pakistan for years.

Pakistan claims that close to 200,000 Afghan nationals have complied with the order to return home this month, while local reports suggested at least 20,000 more had chosen to leave voluntarily on Tuesday ahead of the midnight deadline.

The Taliban’s return to power in Kabul has led to political instability and rising tensions in the region, prompting Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, a militant Taliban group based in Pakistan to revoke a ceasefire with the government last year.

The Taliban claimed that those returning to the country could do so “without any worries,” and spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid revealed the government had erected temporary accommodation and services for repatriates.

However, human rights groups denounced the move by the Pakistani government, claiming that many of those forced to return home would be at risk under the new hardline Islamist regime.

“We believe many of those facing deportation will be at grave risk of human rights violations if returned to Afghanistan, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, cruel and other inhuman treatment,” said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N.’s human rights office.

“We have established holding centers and illegal foreigners will be kept at these centers,” Bugti said in an interview on Monday.

He confirmed that a mass operation would be undertaken by authorities at all levels, including provincial governments and officials at divisional and district levels. Geo-mapping exercises have been completed to target areas with suspected levels of high illegal immigration, and the deportation of undocumented migrants will be conducted in several phases, he added.

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