Pakistan: Police detain Afghans as deadline expires

Police in Pakistan have begun to round up undocumented Afghans living in the country, promising to repatriate by force those who do not voluntarily return

Pakistan says the deportations are to protect its "welfare and security" (photo: DW)
Pakistan says the deportations are to protect its "welfare and security" (photo: DW)


Some 1.7 million Afghans living in Pakistan faced the threat of detention and deportation on Wednesday as the deadline for them to leave passed.

The Pakistani government has claimed the expulsions are necessary to protect its "welfare and security" after a sharp rise in terror attacks that officials blame on militants operating from Afghanistan.

What we know so far

Arrests are understood to have been made across Pakistan's four provinces after the 1 October deadline for voluntary return expired.

While Islamabad said the sweep is part of a new anti-migrant crackdown targeting all undocumented or unregistered foreigners, it mainly affects Afghans.

Authorities on Wednesday began to open dozens of holding centers across the country, some with the capacity to detain several thousand people, to start processing Afghans ahead of mass deportations.

Officials said more than 130,000 Afghans have left Pakistan since Islamabad ordered them to leave at the start of October.

The government said it has already begun the repatriations of those who had not already left.

"Today, we said goodbye to 64 Afghan nationals as they began their journey back home," Interim Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti wrote on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter. "This action is a testament to Pakistan's determination to repatriate any individuals residing in the country without proper documentation."

Taliban appeal for more time

Afghanistan's Taliban regime has denounced the deportation order as "cruel and barbaric." They urged Pakistan to give undocumented Afghans in the country more time to leave, with bottlenecks of returnees forming at border crossings.

The US-based Human Rights Watch group on Tuesday claimed the Pakistani government was using threats, abuse, and detention to force Afghans to return home.

Fereshta Abbasi, the group's Afghanistan researcher, claimed the deadline had led to "detentions, beatings, and extortion, leaving thousands of Afghans in fear over their future."

Meanwhile, rights groups warn that the situation in Afghanistan remains dangerous for many who fled, with deportation exposing them to dangers that include threats to their lives.

Why is Pakistan ordering the deportations?

Critics have said the Afghan refugees are being unfairly punished because of strained relations between the two governments.

One reason is a spike in attacks on Pakistani security forces by the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, whose fighters have found safe havens in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan has repeatedly called for the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan to cease support for the TTP, which is a separate group but allied to the Kabul regime.

Pakistan is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and has no domestic legal framework for refugees, leaving migrants and refugees there vulnerable to changing policies.

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Published: 02 Nov 2023, 11:19 AM