Pakistan extends deadline for Afghans awaiting third-country resettlement

More than 450,000 Afghans have left the country since Pakistani authorities launched a deportation drive in October.

A huge number of Afghans refugees entered the Torkham border to return home hours before the expiration of a Pakistani government deadline for those who are undocumented to leave or face deportation. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Hundreds of thousands of people have crossed into Afghanistan in recent months [File: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo]

Islamabad, Pakistan – The Pakistani government has announced that undocumented Afghans awaiting paperwork to resettle to a third country will be allowed to stay in Pakistan for two more months.

The extension of the deadline on Wednesday from the end of this year to February 29 comes amid Pakistan’s drive to expel more than one million foreigners living in the country without paperwork.

According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), more than 450,000 people have returned to neighbouring Afghanistan since the deportation campaign began in early October. Ninety percent of them did so “voluntarily”, according to the Pakistani government, but the UNHCR says they cited fear of arrest as the primary reason for their decision to leave.

Announcing the extension, interim information minister Murtaza Solangi said anybody overstaying the new deadline would be fined $100 monthly, with a cap set at $800.

“These measures were aimed at encouraging the Afghans residing illegally in Pakistan to obtain legal documents or finalise evacuation agreements as soon as possible in a third country,” Solangi added.

The announcement followed a visit to Pakistan by US State Department officials to discuss the issue of Afghan refugees. It is estimated that nearly 25,000 Afghans require paperwork for resettlement in the United States.

Pakistan estimates that more than 1.7 million Afghan nationals have long lived in the country without documents, with the majority arriving in different waves since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

The last such major influx of an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people took place two years ago after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities have cited a dramatic surge in violence this year – there have been more than 600 attacks in the first 11 months of 2023 – for the deportation drive.

Interim Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said in October that 14 out of 24 suicide attacks in the country over that period were carried out by Afghan nationals. He did not provide any evidence.

The Taliban has denied any accusations of providing shelter to fighters, maintaining their position that Afghanistan’s soil is not being used for cross-border violence.

Source: Al Jazeera