As per Human Rights Watch, the Pakistani government is employing intimidation, mistreatment, and confinement as tactics to pressure Afghan asylum seekers lacking legal status to go back to Afghanistan or else face deportation by November 1, 2023. A significant number of these Afghans, who are in danger of deportation, are in the process of being resettled to countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada.
Earlier this month, Pakistan’s interim interior minister, Sarfaraz Bugti, announced a deadline of October 31 for the departure of all “unlawful” refugees and migrants, citing security concerns. The government stated that Pakistan is home to over four million foreign nationals, with the majority being Afghan citizens who sought refuge in the country over the past four decades, primarily after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
More recently, following the Taliban’s return to power in 2021, Pakistani authorities report that approximately 6,00,000 to 8,00,000 Afghans migrated to Pakistan. The Pakistani government asserts that nearly 1.7 million of these Afghan individuals lack proper documentation.
“Only two days are left for a voluntary return,” Bugti said in a video message issued on Tuesday. He announced that the procedure would be “lengthy and gradual,” but did not provide a time estimate. “We are not deporting any refugees.”, he said and further stated that only the refugees whose presence is completely illegal will be asked to leave Pakistan.
Numerous Afghans who came to Pakistan following the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021 were initially encouraged to seek resettlement in different countries such as the US, UK, Canada, and Germany. However, they now find themselves in a precarious situation due to expired Pakistani visas and protracted resettlement procedures, which expose them to the risk of being detained and sent back to their home country.
Torkham is a border crossing that links Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in the west with Afghanistan’s Jalalabad Province in the east, spanning the historic Khyber Pass. The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan stretches for a total of 2,610 kilometers.
To enter Afghanistan, Afghans are required to undergo a registration process, which includes the collection of their fingerprints and biographical data. Authorities in Torkham have already witnessed over 4,000 Afghan families returning to their home country.
This exodus was prompted by the Pakistani Interior Ministry’s announcement on October 3, which mandated that all undocumented immigrants in Pakistan must depart the country within 28 days. Consequently, by October 27, approximately 60,000 Afghans had left Pakistan, with many citing their primary motivation as the fear of arrest in Pakistan.
Jan Achakzai, a government spokesperson in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, stated on Tuesday that individuals apprehended under the new policy will be treated with care and provided transportation to the Chaman border crossing.
Afghanistan is experiencing a profound humanitarian crisis, with women and girls facing severe hardships. The Taliban has imposed strict bans, preventing them from pursuing education beyond the sixth grade and limiting their access to public spaces and employment. Additionally, there are restrictions on media, activists, and civil society organizations in the country.