Pakistan expels Afghan refugees

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FILE PHOTO: Afghan refugee children sit on a truck loaded with belongings as they along with their families prepare to return home, after Pakistan gives the last warning to undocumented immigrants to leave, outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriation centres in Azakhel town in Nowshera, Pakistan October 30, 2023. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz/File photo

Pakistan has decided to start its initiative to expel 1.7 million migrants, a significant portion of whom are Afghans who fled the Taliban. Despite facing criticism from human rights organisations, the Pakistani government implemented a policy that requires undocumented or unregistered foreign nationals, especially Afghans, to leave the country until November 1 or face being expelled.

Ahead of the government’s deadline, numerous Afghans residing in Pakistan hurried to the border using trucks and buses. The recent anti-migrant policy was introduced by Pakistan’s government, which has warned of the possibility of detaining and deporting individuals who do not leave voluntarily.

Blaming Afghan migrants for an increase in armed attacks, particularly in provinces bordering Afghanistan, Islamabad has cited them as the reason for these security challenges. The government has also accused Kabul of harbouring Taliban-associated militants who launch attacks in Pakistan, an accusation that the Taliban have refuted.

According to Pakistan’s interior ministry, between 600,000 to 800,000 migrants arrived after the Taliban regained power in 2021. The government claims that there are approximately 1.7 million undocumented migrants in Pakistan, all of whom have been instructed to leave the country by today or face consequences.

Despite this, the decision to expel migrants has faced strong opposition from UN agencies, human rights groups, and the Taliban-led administration in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government asserts that over four million foreign nationals are living in the country, with the majority being Afghans who sought refuge over the past four decades.

Pakistan’s authorities declared that the operation would be gradual, without providing specific details regarding the timeframe. The focus is on deporting individuals who are completely illegal, denying that refugees are being expelled if they are legally registered in the country.

However, the UNHCR office in Pakistan urged the government to safeguard those at risk of persecution if forcibly returned to their home countries. The agency recommended a comprehensive system to manage and register these vulnerable individuals.

Amidst this situation, thousands have left for Afghanistan since the policy was announced, and many more are preparing to depart before the deadline. It is estimated that around 200,000 people left Pakistan in the last two months.

The situation presents a complex and challenging reality for many of the affected migrants, many of whom lived and have built their lives in Pakistan over several decades.

Afghanistan has been at war for more than 30 years. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to support a communist-led coup. The Soviets withdrew after 10 years of costly fighting against Afghan insurgents armed by the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but Afghanistan sank into civil war. The Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic group, had taken control of most of the country by 1998. The Taliban’s refusal to turn over Bin Laden and his followers following 11 September led to a United Nations-authorized international military intervention, beginning on 7 October 2001. The Taliban lost power in 2001, but returned in 2021, after the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops.

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