Pakistan wants undocumented migrants to leave by November 1 or get deported

Government’s planned crackdown makes the future of an estimated 1.7 million Afghans in Pakistan uncertain.

People get their papers checked by the officer while they cross main Afghanistan-Pakistan land border crossing, in Torkham, Pakistan September 15, 2023.
People get their papers checked as they use the main crossing on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Torkham, Pakistan [File: Fayaz Aziz/Reuters]

Pakistan has ordered all undocumented immigrants, mainly nearly 1.73 million Afghan nationals, to voluntarily leave the country or face deportations.

“We have given them a November 1 deadline,” Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said on Tuesday amid claims by Islamabad that 14 of 24 suicide bombings in the country this year were carried out by Afghan nationals.

Bugti said an estimated 1.73 million Afghan nationals in Pakistan have no legal documents to stay, adding that a total of 4.4 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan.

“There are no two opinions that we are attacked from within Afghanistan and Afghan nationals are involved in attacks on us,” he said. “We have evidence.”

Islamabad has received the largest influx of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of their country in 1979. About 1.3 million Afghans are registered refugees in Pakistan and 880,000 more have legal status to remain, according to the latest United Nations figures.

“If they do not go, … then all the law enforcement agencies in the provinces or federal government will be utilised to deport them,” Bugti said.

It was not immediately clear how Pakistani authorities could ensure the undocumented immigrants leave or how they could find them to expel them.

Pakistan’s announcement, called “harassment” by the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, marked a new low in its relations with Kabul, which have deteriorated since border clashes between the South Asian neighbours last month.

In a statement on X, the embassy said more than 1,000 Afghans have been detained in the past two weeks – half of them despite having a legal right to be in Pakistan.

“Despite the repeated promises of the Pakistan authorities, the arrest and harassment of Afghan refugees by the police in Pakistan continues,” it said.

Fazal Rehman, a 57-year-old Afghan fruit seller in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said he arrived in Pakistan 30 years ago and his children have never been to Afghanistan.

He said he had never felt the need to register with Pakistani authorities and now fears it is too late to do so.

“We request the Pakistan government not to expel us in such a hasty way and allow us either to live here peacefully, or we should be given at least six months to one year time to go back,” he said.

Bugti said from November 1, Pakistan would allow entry only to Afghans with valid passports and visas.

For years, Afghans entering Pakistan through land borders were allowed to use their national identity cards as a travel document.

There is a huge waiting list in Afghanistan for nationals seeking to get passports, and obtaining a Pakistan visa can take months.

Bugti also warned of a crackdown on property and businesses owned by the Afghans in Pakistan.

Source: News Agencies