Pakistan Extends Deadline For Undocumented Afghan Resettlement Amidst Ongoing Deportation Campaign

The extension, announced by interim information minister Murtaza Solangi, is accompanied by a new penalty system. Those overstaying the revised deadline will face a monthly fine of $100, capped at a maximum of $800. S

In a recent development, the Pakistani government has decided to extend the deadline for undocumented Afghans awaiting paperwork to resettle in third countries. The original deadline, set to expire at the end of this year, has now been prolonged until February 29. This decision comes amidst Pakistan’s ongoing efforts to expel over a million foreigners residing in the country without proper documentation.

Since the deportation campaign commenced in early October, more than 450,000 individuals have returned to Afghanistan, as reported by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). While the Pakistani government claims that 90% of these returns were voluntary, the UNHCR suggests that fear of arrest was the primary motivator for the Afghans’ decision to leave.

The extension, announced by interim information minister Murtaza Solangi, is accompanied by a new penalty system. Those overstaying the revised deadline will face a monthly fine of $100, capped at a maximum of $800. Solangi emphasized that these measures aim to encourage illegal Afghan residents in Pakistan to obtain legal documents or finalize evacuation agreements with third countries promptly.

The announcement closely follows a visit to Pakistan by officials from the U.S. State Department, reflecting the global significance of the Afghan refugee issue. Approximately 25,000 Afghans are estimated to require paperwork for resettlement in the United States.

Pakistan, home to an estimated 1.7 million Afghan nationals without proper documentation, has witnessed waves of migration since the Soviet invasion in 1979. The most recent influx occurred two years ago after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities attribute the recent surge in their deportation drive to a dramatic increase in violence throughout 2023, with over 600 reported attacks in the first 11 months of the year. Interim Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti, in October, stated that 14 out of 24 suicide attacks during this period were carried out by Afghan nationals. However, he did not provide concrete evidence to support these claims.

The Taliban, on their part, has consistently denied allegations of harbouring fighters and maintains that Afghanistan’s soil is not utilized for cross-border violence.

As discussions continue between nations and international agencies to address the Afghan refugee crisis, the extended deadline in Pakistan brings a temporary respite for those awaiting resettlement. The penalty system underscores the government’s determination to regularize the status of undocumented residents, albeit with financial consequences for those who fail to comply. The situation remains dynamic, with geopolitical and humanitarian considerations playing a crucial role in shaping the fate of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.