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More than 165,000 Afghans flee Pakistan in a month after government order

TORKHAM, Pakistan: More than 165,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan in the month since Islamabad issued an ultimatum to 1.7 million people to leave or face arrest and deportation, officials said on Thursday (Nov 2).

The majority rushed to the border in the past several days as the Nov 1 deadline approached and police began to open up dozens of holding centres to detain arrested Afghans.

Officials at the country’s busiest border point at Torkham in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province worked into the early hours of Thursday morning to clear a queue of 28,000 people that stretched for 7km.

The border traffic has since eased, with officials encouraging undocumented Afghans to continue leaving voluntarily as police launched search operations.

Why is Pakistan deporting foreigners?

The sudden expulsion threat came after suicide bombings this year that the government said involved Afghans, though without providing evidence.

Pakistani authorities said Afghan nationals were found to be involved in attacks against the government and the army, including 14 of this year’s 24 suicide bombings.

Islamabad has also blamed them for smuggling and other militant attacks as well as petty crimes. Kabul rejects the accusations.

The vast majority of undocumented foreigners in Pakistan are Afghans, and, while authorities have not yet provided official data, only a few would comprise people from Iran and some central Asian countries, among others.

Pakistan is home to more than four million Afghan migrants and refugees, about 1.7 million of them undocumented, Islamabad says, although many have lived in Pakistan for their entire lives.

Pakistan has brushed off calls to reconsider its decision from the United Nations, rights groups and Western embassies, who have urged it to incorporate into its plan a way to identify and protect Afghans facing the risk of persecution at home.

Islamabad says deportation will be orderly, carried out in phases and start with those who have criminal records. Authorities have threatened raids in areas suspected of housing “undocumented foreigners” after Wednesday.

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“Illegal Afghans arrived at Torkham in heavy numbers because of the deadline … people can still return voluntarily but today only 1,000 are present at the border,” Abdul Nasir Khan, deputy commissioner of the border district, told AFP.

Just over 129,000 have fled from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the provincial home department said, while a total of 38,100 have crossed through Chaman in Balochistan, border officials there told AFP.

Authorities on the Afghan side of the border have been overwhelmed by the scale of the exodus as they attempt to process those returning – some of whom are setting foot in Afghanistan for the first time in their lives.

CAMPAIGN CONTINUES

Millions of Afghans have poured into Pakistan in recent decades, fleeing a series of violent conflicts, including an estimated 600,000 since the Taliban government seized power in August 2021 and imposed its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Pakistan has said the deportations are to protect its “welfare and security” after a sharp rise in attacks, which the government blames on militants operating from Afghanistan.

Analysts say it’s likely a pressure tactic to force the Taliban government to cooperate on security issues.

The Afghan embassy in Islamabad has said the move will further damage relations between the two neighbours.

On Thursday, more than 100 people were detained in one police operation in the mega city of Karachi, while police rounded up 425 Afghans in Quetta, the city closest to the Chaman border crossing.

Related:

Mass exodus of Afghans as deadline to leave Pakistan arrives

Afghans return to Taliban rule as Pakistan moves to expel 1.7 million

Pakistan prepares deportation centres as deadline for Afghans looms

“The campaign against illegal immigrants will continue,” Saad Bin Asad, the deputy commissioner of the city, told AFP.

Lawyers and rights groups have accused the Pakistani government of using threats, abuse, and detention to coerce Afghan asylum seekers to leave while Afghans have reported weeks of arbitrary arrests and extortion.

“The constitution of Pakistan gives every person who is present on this soil the right to a fair trial, but these refugees have been denied that right,” said Moniza Kakar, a Karachi-based human rights lawyer.

The expulsion of undocumented Afghans, however, has widespread support from Pakistanis, analysts say, with a protracted refugee presence putting a heavy burden on the country’s infrastructure.

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