Pakistan, home to more than 1.7 million people who have fled violence in neighboring Afghanistan, is launching a mass deportation of “illegal immigrants,” authorities said Tuesday.
In a news conference, caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti announced a November 1 deadline for those residing in the country illegally to leave, after which “all law enforcement agencies would deport them,” he said.
As of the end of 2022, Pakistan hosted more than 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees and 427,000 people in “refugee-like situations” from Afghanistan, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency.
But their presence in Pakistan has long been controversial, with police crackdowns and threats of deportation in previous years. Hundreds of Afghans have already been deported from Pakistan this year, according to volunteer groups, citing local records.
At the news conference Tuesday, Bugti claimed that Afghan nationals carried out 14 of the 24 major terrorist attacks that have taken place in Pakistan this year.
“There are attacks on us from Afghanistan and Afghan nationals are involved in those attacks. We have evidence present for that,” he added.
Businesses and properties of “illegal aliens will be confiscated, and illegal business operators and their facilitators will be prosecuted” in the crackdown, Bugti said.
“Strict legal action will be taken against any Pakistani citizen or company providing accommodation or facilities to illegal aliens” residing in Pakistan after the deadline, he added.
The decision was made by the National Apex Committee, which met earlier on Tuesday. A task force has also been formed to “seize people with fake identity cards and illegal properties built on their fake documents,” while the country’s national database and registration body has been ordered to cancel any “fake identity cards” and confirm any cases with DNA testing, authorities said.
Pakistan is home to one of the world’s largest refugee populations – the vast majority of them from Afghanistan. Given the two countries’ shared border and deep cultural ties, their fates have always been linked – with years of conflict and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan inevitably spilling into Pakistan.
Many Afghans fled the Soviet invasion of their country in 1979, settling in Pakistan during the biggest refugee crisis in the world at the time. Another wave took place in 2021 after the Taliban retook Kabul, with thousands of Afghans crossing the Pakistan border, often with incomplete paperwork while waiting for visas to third countries, such as the United States.
“Many Afghans living in fear of persecution by the Taliban have fled to Pakistan, where they have been subjected to waves of arbitrary detentions, arrests, and the threat of deportation,” Nonprofit organization Amnesty International said in a statement Monday.
“It is deeply concerning that the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is not receiving due international attention.”
Advocacy group Refugees International said it was “especially concerned” for the fate of Afghans who fled their country in 2021 due to fear of the Taliban.
“Pakistan has a long history of generously hosting their Afghan neighbors when they have been unsafe. Now is not the time to stop,” it said.