Afghanistan’s Taliban government has urged Pakistan to give undocumented Afghans in the country more time to leave as pressure mounts at border posts where thousands of returnees have gathered, fleeing the threat of deportation.
The Pakistani government has given 1.7 million undocumented Afghans in the country until November 1 to leave voluntarily or be forcibly removed.
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Taliban authorities thanked Pakistan and other countries that have hosted millions of Afghans who fled during decades of conflict.
However, in a statement late on Tuesday, they also “asked them to not forcibly deport Afghans with little notice but to give them time to prepare”.
Tens of thousands leave
Pakistan has said it will begin an effort on Thursday to round up and expel anyone still in the country, after setting the deadline in October to begin expelling all undocumented immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of Afghans.
A senior official in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bordering Afghanistan said about 104,000 Afghan nationals had left through the main Torkham border crossing during the last two weeks.
“Some of them have been living in Pakistan for more than 30 years without any proof of registration,” said Nasir Khan, the deputy commissioner of the area.
An as yet undetermined number have also left via the Chaman border crossing in the southwestern province of Balochistan.
Pakistan’s interior ministry said 140,322 of those who had stayed without documents had left.
“A process to arrest the foreigners … for deportation has started by November 1,” it said in a statement, adding that voluntary return would still be encouraged.
Of the more than four million Afghans living in Pakistan, the government estimates 1.7 million are undocumented.
Since taking power, the Taliban government has urged Afghans to return home but has also condemned Pakistan’s actions, saying nationals are being punished for tensions between Islamabad and Kabul.
Pakistan has said the deportations are to protect its “welfare and security” after a sharp rise in attacks, which the government blames on armed groups operating from Afghanistan.
The Taliban has rejected the claim, saying, “In countries where Afghans live, they have not threatened the security of those countries, nor have they been the cause of instability.”
The statement criticised Pakistan for restrictions on what Afghans could bring across the border, including property, such as livestock and cash.
Border officials on the Afghan side at the Torkham crossing in eastern Afghanistan said they were facing an “emergency situation” as they tried to keep up with thousands of arrivals.
An ad hoc settlement has sprung up near the border post, where people sleep outdoors with limited access to food, water and medicines as they wait for registration.
The government has established a high commission to address the issue and said two temporary camps would be set up in the area near Torkham.
Wednesday’s statement also urged wealthy Afghans to work with the high commission to support returnees with transport, accommodation and shelter.
Officials have said staff, technical reinforcements and trucks carrying mobile toilets, generators and water tankers were being deployed to Torkham.
A high-level government delegation visited Torkham on Tuesday, pledging support to returnees who had been “forcibly evicted by the Pakistani government against all the norms, good neighbourliness and humanitarian sentiments”.