Pakistan Cracks Down on Afghan Refugees, Sparks Mass Exodus

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry had given foreign nationals living without legal status 28 days to leave voluntarily, with November 1 as the deadline…reports Asian Lite News

In a recent move aimed at addressing security concerns stemming from rising terrorist attacks, Pakistan initiated a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, primarily Afghan refugees, resulting in a mass exodus. This operation involved security sweeps in Karachi, Rawalpindi, and bordering provinces like Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to UN agencies, Pakistan is home to over 2 million undocumented Afghans, with at least 600,000 arriving after the Taliban’s 2021 takeover. This new deportation policy has strained relations with the Taliban-led Afghanistan and raised international concerns, according to the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS)

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry had given foreign nationals living without legal status 28 days to leave voluntarily, with November 1 as the deadline. This announcement prompted a surge of Afghan refugees heading towards the border crossings to avoid deportation, particularly noticeable in Karachi’s Sohrab Goth area. Some have lived in Pakistan for decades, and some have never been to Afghanistan.

The Pakistan government claimed that around 200,000 Afghan nationals had already left the country in the two months leading up to November 1. The Taliban’s refugee ministry reported daily returnee figures three times higher than usual. While Pakistan’s government stated that only those without any documentation would be deported initially, incidents have occurred where individuals holding Afghan Citizen Cards were targeted.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, criticized Islamabad’s deportation policy, especially concerning the vulnerability of women and girls returning to Afghanistan. The UNHCR expressed concerns about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, worsened by recent earthquakes and the approaching winter.

Despite criticism, Pakistan’s government proceeded with its plans to open detention centres around the country. They emphasized their right to follow their laws and their history of hosting Afghan refugees for over four decades.

The deportation of Afghan nationals has also raised concerns for those awaiting relocation to the US and the UK under special refugee programs. These individuals had to relocate to Pakistan for their applications to be processed, and their situations are now precarious.

The UN, human rights organizations and the international community have expressed concerns about the deportation policy’s potential to create a human rights crisis. Aid organizations reported that refugees arriving in Afghanistan were in poor condition, and their survival and reintegration into Afghan society were uncertain.

Pakistan justified the crackdown by citing an upsurge in terrorist attacks and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s activities. However, many, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, believe that the refugees should not suffer for Pakistan’s security concerns and that they should have access to legal counsel. There are calls for Pakistan to consider signing the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees.

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