Over 165,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan in a mass exodus, as the government expands a crackdown aimed at expelling illegally residing foreigners following the expiry of the government’s deadline for undocumented migrants to either voluntarily leave or risk arrests and deportation.
On Oct. 3, interim Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti announced that any foreigners living illegally in Pakistan must leave by Nov. 1 or face arrests, confiscation of their assets, and expulsion. While he stressed that this policy was not singling out any nationality, he acknowledged that it would disproportionately impact Afghans, who comprise the largest foreign presence in Pakistan. Maintaining the move was aimed at ensuring the “security” of Pakistanis, he noted that of 24 suicide attacks in Pakistan thus far this year, 14 had the involvement of Afghan nationals.
Following the announcement, Afghans started moving back to their homeland, with the process expediting over the past week, as the deadline’s expiry loomed. Some Afghans have also alleged that law enforcers had started harassing them to prove their credentials and they would prefer to return to Afghanistan “with dignity” than continue to be targeted by authorities.
Speaking with news agency AFP, Kabul’s refugees minister Khalil Haqqani lamented that Afghanistan had been “overwhelmed” by the large numbers crossing the border. “We are constantly in contact with them [Pakistan] asking for more time,” he said. In a bid to manage the influx, the Taliban-led government has established a center near the border crossing to process fresh arrivals, and have also established camps to house the returnees—several of whom have never even set foot inside Afghanistan, as they were born in Pakistan.
According to authorities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, around 129,000 people have left the province for Afghanistan, while 38,100 have crossed through Chaman in Balochistan province. Authorities maintain they are not targeting any foreigners desiring to leave voluntarily, adding arrested illegals would be detained in holding centers for legal formalities prior to their deportation.
Caretaker Bugti met the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad on Thursday, with the Interior Ministry announcing women and children under 14 who were leaving voluntarily would not be subject to body searches and biometric scanning at the border, in line with cultural sensitivities. However, authorities have said, they would maintain a “head count” of women and children going to Afghanistan.
Pakistan has been hosting millions of Afghans since the 1980s, with at least 600,000 believed to have entered the country since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021. Several of these have been assured of resettlement to the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Canada, with Human Rights Watch calling for the processing of their applications to be expedited as their visas have expired.