Authorities on Wednesday commenced shifting illegally residing foreigners in Pakistan to holding centers, a day after the Oct. 31 deadline for the voluntary repatriation of undocumented migrants expired.
In a video statement issued on Tuesday, caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti announced the government would launch a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of Afghan nationals, from Thursday (Nov. 2). “Only two days are left for a voluntary return,” he said, adding that Nov. 1 would be a “grace period” for any illegals wishing to return to their home states. According to local media, over 100,000 illegal Afghans have already returned to Afghanistan over the past month.
Speaking with media, Bugti further said officials and agencies had been ordered to treat all illegal foreigners respectfully. He reiterated that a complaint cell had been established to address complaints of mistreatment or manhandling, adding people could call UAN number 051 111-367-226 or hotline number 051-9211685 to register their concerns.
While the government has repeatedly stressed that its repatriation policy is not specifically aimed at any single nationality, it is undeniable that it would disproportionately impact Afghans, at least 4 million of whom are residing in Pakistan as migrants and refugees. According to the Interior Ministry, roughly 1.7 million of Afghans in Pakistan are undocumented, including many who were born here. However, under Pakistani law, an individual cannot be granted citizenship unless both their parents are Pakistani.
Despite Bugti’s statement, meanwhile, authorities have already initiated a crackdown against illegal migrants, with undocumented individuals in various parts of the country being detained and shifted to holding centers. In Karachi, authorities detained four illegal Afghan migrants and shifted them to a holding center before repatriating them to Afghanistan after fulfilling legal formalities. Similarly, police visited the Sohrab Goth area—home to many Afghans—and issued a warning to any illegal foreigners remaining in Pakistan after midnight on Nov. 1 that they would be arrested and deported.
In Balochistan, Levies officials said dozens of illegal migrants from across the province had been detained and would be deported after legal formalities. They said 5,000 illegal refugees had been shifted to holding centers already, adding thousands of Afghans had reached the Chaman border crossing and were voluntarily leaving the country ahead of the planned crackdown. Caretaker Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai, meanwhile, told a press conference that over 30,000 illegal immigrants, including Iranians, Iraqis and Afghans, had returned to their countries already.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, police said they were advising undocumented foreigners on how to return to their country. In Punjab, police said they had finalized the repatriation plan, adding the district administration would be responsible for illegal foreigners’ transport, food and other arrangements.
The government has cited Section 3 of the Foreigners Act 1946 to defend its repatriation policy, with authorities stating that the status of all foreigners would be checked through biometric verification before any detention of deportation. According to authorities, any individuals with valid Proof of Registration, Afghan Citizen Cards or other travel documents would not face any issues in the first phase. Those without valid documentation, however, would be shifted to holding centers.
The holding centers, per the Interior Ministry, are equipped with facilities to complete legal formalities, including the registration of cases. It said that leniency would be shown to illegal migrants married to Pakistani citizens, but noted that they could still face cases against them.
Rights bodies’ criticisms
Amidst global calls for restraint, the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) has written a letter to the government and other stakeholders urging them to deal with Afghan asylum seekers according to national and international human rights commitments. Similarly, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has urged the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, to ensure protection for Afghan refugees.