Almost 200,000 Afghan nationals have voluntarily returned to Afghanistan over the past two months. Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti told a news conference that individuals who remain in the country past the deadline will be detained. They will be held in designated “holding centers” before being transported to the nearest Afghan border crossing and repatriated.
Bugti reiterated that the crackdown was not aimed at any specific nationality. He said the targeted community primarily comprises people from Afghanistan. While announcing the deadline in early October, Bugti said that an estimated 1.7 million Afghans are among those facing forcible return.
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, reports Pakistan is currently hosting about 1.4 million legally registered Afghan refugees. Nearly 900,000 Afghans are documented as economic migrants. Another 700,000 fled Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August 2021. All of them took refuge in the neighboring country.
Spokesperson UNHCR, Matthew Saltmarsh, said, “We have appealed to Pakistan to continue its protection of all vulnerable Afghans who have sought safety in the country and could be at imminent risk if forced to return.”
UNHCR also appreciated the announcements by Pakistan to exclude registered refugees and other categories of vulnerable Afghans from this exercise.
The decision is in the exercise of Pakistan’s sovereign domestic laws. It is also compliant with applicable international norms and principles. The foreign ministry emphasized again that legally registered Afghan refugees are beyond the purview of this plan. The government security agencies are directed to ensure their safety.
Pakistani officials defended their crackdown, citing a dramatic surge in deadly attacks in the country. That is being organized by Taliban-allied fugitive militants out of Afghan sanctuaries. Islamabad maintains that Afghan nationals carried out several recent suicide bombings in Pakistan.
Taliban authorities, at first, rejected the charges and called on Pakistan to “reconsider its plan” of expelling Afghans. However, they have lately made emergency arrangements on the Afghan side to provide shelter, health care, food and other services to families returning home.
U.N. officials warn Pakistan’s deportation of “undocumented” foreign nationals risks triggering a human rights catastrophe.
“We are very worried that those who are deported face a whole host of human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, severe discrimination, and lack of access to basic economic and social needs,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.